Throughout my years of serving as your Commonwealth's Attorney, I have had the privilege and pleasure of working with hundreds of jurors, during various trials and weekly with the Grand Jury. I cannot begin to express my thanks to each and every person who has honored their duty to serve as jurors in Christian County, knowing that it would be easier to just ignore that summons when it arrives in the mail.
Thomas Jefferson said, "I consider trial by jury as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution." The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees anyone accused of a crime the right to a trial by a jury. However, unless you have been a criminal defendant or a juror, you may not understand some of the differences between a trial jury and a Grand Jury, or other details that go along with jury service.
In Kentucky, we have petit juries and grand juries, which each serve an equally important but very different role in our judicial system. Jurors are randomly selected from computer rolls of adult Kentuckians who are registered voters, who pay taxes and who are licensed drivers. A jury summons is sent to each person selected for a particular month, jurors are required by law to return the summons form, and the jury pool for each division is made up of those people. It is from that pool that a Grand Jury is selected - every other month in Christian County - and from which trial [civil and criminal] jurors are seated.
As the Commonwealth's Attorney, I prosecute felony criminal cases that are punished by at least a one year sentence. The County Attorney prosecutes misdemeanor cases, which are punished by twelve months or less, among his other duties. A felony case may begin with an arrest and proceedings in District Court before ultimately making its way before the Grand Jury. Or, it may be presented to the Grand Jury as a direct submission by the appropriate investigator.
The Grand Jury's job is to determine if there is adequate probable cause for a felony case to go forward in Circuit Court. The Grand Jury is an independent investigative body that votes whether to return a 'True Bill of Indictment' in a case or a 'No True Bill' - which means that they did not have nine votes that felt there was probable cause in any given case. They hear evidence from some civilian witnesses, but primarily from law enforcement officers. They have the ability to subpoena additional witnesses or evidence, if they feel it is necessary in making the right decision.
You may have heard people say, "a prosecutor could get a Grand Jury to indict a ham sandwich." I want to clear up that misconception. First, all prosecutors are held to ethical standards and laws that prevent them from presenting a 'ham sandwich' to a Grand Jury. We all have plenty of work to do without presenting baseless cases, seeking indictment on charges that we will ultimately not be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. Next, the Grand Jury is made up of twelve people who make their own independent decision whether to indict someone (not something) after hearing the evidence presented to them. They vote in private, and nine of them must agree that probable cause exists before an indictment is returned. For those reasons, it is demeaning to those who have served on a Grand Jury to make comments alleging that they would simply 'rubber stamp' an unjustified charge that may be presented by any prosecutor.
A trial jury, on the other hand, is selected by allowing both prosecution and defense to exercise a certain number of strikes from a larger jury pool. Once selected, those jurors hear a much more detailed presentation of the facts, testimony and evidence in a case. However, there are certain things, such as a defendant's criminal history or hearsay statements, that they are not allowed to hear about in the guilt phase of a trial. It is only after they unanimously decide that someone is guilty before they are allowed to learn of a defendant's prior convictions, about the penalty range and parole eligibility for the crime currently charged with, and from the victims of the crime about the impact of the criminal activity on them. This 'Truth In Sentencing' phase of the trial is where the jury selects the punishment that they feel is appropriate for the criminal acts of which they found the defendant guilty.
Please take an opportunity to read the Grand Jury reports and Newsletters that are posted on our website to get some insight into the experiences and results of our jurors in Christian County. And, if you ever receive a jury summons, please take that opportunity to serve and gain some first-hand knowledge of our criminal justice system. But also, please understand that your role is very serious as it comes to seeking justice for crime victims, to ensuring the rights of those accused, and to protecting our community.
For those of you that have served as a juror in the past, please accept my sincerest thanks and appreciation for honoring your civic duty. Our criminal justice system could not operate effectively without the citizens of Christian County serving as both trial and grand jurors. Your pay was certainly not sufficient for the vital job you performed.