The People of Texas v Planned Parenthood Filmmakers
A couple of years ago, I, like most everybody else, found myself watching the Ferguson events with a critical eye. My biggest issue with the whole thing was the Grand Jury proceedings. They were – of course – secret and not open to the public because that is how Grand Juries work. In the process of that proceeding, it became clear that a less than full effort was being given by the District Attorney (a Democrat, btw) to gain an indictment of Officer Wilson.
Now, regardless of how you feel about the Ferguson incident, it was then and remains today my position that the District Attorney of any given locale has the ability to be vigorous OR to tank it a bit in front of a Grand Jury in order to gain the result he or she wants. This accomplishes a major thing for the DA’s. It gives that DA political cover. Since the proceedings are normally secret, nobody can blame them for how the Grand Jury voted.
Moreover, since a Grand Jury does not allow for a Defense or for Cross-examination, there is NO REQUIREMENT for the DA to present evidence that may be exculpatory in nature. In other words, the DA only has to prevent evidence that makes the target of the Grand Jury look as bad as possible, without putting any of the evidence in context or presenting any facts that may show that there is either no crime or that the target is innocent.
Conversely, the DA can – and very well might, only present evidence to the Grand Jury that tends to clear a target, with no evidence or questions that might tend to show a crime or point to guilt.
See the problem?
Yes, the Grand Jury is in the Constitution. That much is true. But so are other things which have changed and muddied through the years. There was a time when a DA, a government official – would have feared manipulating a Grand Jury because of accountability and a virtuous and engaged citizenry.
That is clearly no longer the case.
Many States have done away with the Criminal Grand Jury because it is simply too easy for a DA to manipulate. In the words of one DA, “I could indict a ham sandwich.”
Why does any of this matter?
Yesterday, a Houston Grand Jury “cleared” Planned Parenthood of any misconduct and at the same time, indicted the two Filmmakers” who exposed the activities of Planned Parenthood in a series of internet videos. We do not know what evidence was presented, nor do we know what evidence was NOT presented.*
Today, people who liked what the Grand Jury did in Ferguson are outraged, while people who disliked what the Grand Jury did in Ferguson and New York are happy. Even the Grand Jury process has become politicized and poll driven.
A while back, Pat the Lawyer, Chatroom Jeff and I did a a Constitution Thursday – The Saturday Podcast about this very thing. In fact, we did two of them because Jeff’s microphone wasn’t working the first time. In both shows, we talked about the “Effective Counsel” debate, but we also got into the discussion, particularly in the second show, about the idea of the Criminal Grand Jury and how dangerously it can be managed by DA’s to gain the desired – by the government – result.
And if you don’t think that power couldn’t ruin your life…. well… just give it a listen…
*For the record, I have on;y one question on this matter that I would ask an/or pursue: Were the videos as presented to the public by the filmmaker edited to remove information that might not support their conclusion? If they were, then regardless of how abhorrent Planned Parenthood is, the videos are not evidence of a crime and are a political attempt to manipulate public opinion by withholding facts. If they are not edited, then that fact should be easily presented in Court, should it not?