One of the recent headlines in the Chicago Sun Times read, “Cook County prosecutors steer clear of judges in gun cases.” Gun charges can wreak havoc on your life and in the lives of your loved ones, and as reported in this article, prosecutors purposely avoid judges and instead go to grand juries to ensure they will get indictments for gun charges.
The State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez has actually ordered those prosecuting felony gun possession cases to present them to grand juries rather than go before a judge in a preliminary hearing. In Illinois, grand juries and judges can both decide if there is probable cause for a trial, but grand juries are notorious for agreeing with the prosecutor and issuing an indictment. Judges can be less predictable, so the state’s attorney has decided to bypass them altogether.
How Does a Grand Jury Operate?
A grand jury in Cook County is made up of 12 people summoned, drawn, qualified, and certified according to statute. New grand juries are seated the first Monday of the month and no more than six grand juries can be convened at one time. Their role is to hear evidence and when appropriate, issue indictments. If evidence against you is being presented to a grand jury, you will not be present in the room. There will also be no judge present. The only people who are part of the proceedings are the assistant state’s attorney, any witness(es), a court reporter, and the 12 members of the grand jury. All grand jury proceedings are secret, but you can obtain transcripts during discovery if you are indicted.
It is well known that grand juries are extremely friendly to the assistant state’s attorney. In many cases, they are no more than a rubber stamp. While a grand jury is supposed to be an investigative body, it is almost never an interactive procedure. Grand juries have the power to ask questions and issue subpoenas, but they rarely do. Most grand jury transcripts are ten pages or shorter, with no independent questions asked by grand jurors.
What Does This Mean for You?
At a preliminary hearing, you have a chance, even though it is small, to avoid facing formal charges. Illinois law allows the two bites at the apple, however, because even if you prevail at a preliminary hearing before a judge, the State can then take the same case, with the same witnesses and same offer of proof into the grand jury and get an indictment. It seems likely more gun charges will follow, under this system.
If you have been arrested for a gun charge in Illinois, it just became more likely you will be charged and face trial. The David Freidman law firm is here help you, beginning with any grand jury that is convened on your behalf, and will stay on your side through any subsequent indictment that is issued. If you are in the Chicago area, contact us today at 312-560-7100 or email us, and let us see how we can help you.