The PA Supreme Court Thursday announced it has formed a task force to perform a comprehensive review of investigating grand juries.
“Recent high profile trials have focused attention on investigating grand juries and the important role they play in the justice system,” said Chief Justice of Pennsylvania Thomas G. Saylor. “It is good policy to periodically evaluate operations and make updates and improvements where warranted. As a comprehensive review of Pennsylvania’s investigating grand juries has not taken place in recent memory, the Supreme Court has formed this task force to prepare a public report detailing current operations of grand juries and advancing proposals for possible improvement.”
An investigating grand jury is a group of citizens, usually numbering 23, which investigates suspected criminal activities and decides whether enough evidence exists to recommend that authorities file criminal charges.
Grand jury proceedings are not open to the public, and they do not decide guilt or innocence.
Grand jury jurors generally serve for 18 months. Prosecutors seriously evaluate jurors’ recommendations, but are not required to follow them. Grand juries are different than trial juries, which usually consist of fewer citizens and decide the facts of a case in a formal trial.
Among the matters the task force will be asked to assess are the scope and nature of grand jury secrecy as well as the roles of the supervising judge and the Commonwealth’s attorney. Issues such as training for supervising judges, gag orders and swearing attorneys to secrecy are likely to be areas of study.
To ensure a variety of perspectives, the task force is comprised of attorneys experienced as defense counsel or prosecutors, judges and a law school professor.
Task force members are:
-- Judge Anthony M. Mariani (chair), Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas
-- President Judge George N. Zanic, Huntingdon County Court of Common Pleas
-- Sal Cognetti Jr., Esq., The Law Firm of Cognetti & Cimini, Scranton
-- Linda Dale Hoffa, Esq., Dilworth Paxson LLP, Philadelphia
-- Ronald Eisenberg, Esq., Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, Philadelphia
-- Thomas J. Farrell, Esq., Farrell & Reisinger, LLC, Pittsburgh
-- Professor Wesley M. Oliver, Duquesne University School of Law, Pittsburgh