Sixteen area residents were impaneled for a grand jury on Wednesday. They are likely to meet periodically over the next several months.
Chief District Court Judge Doug Walker provided an overview of the duties required by a grand jury. A grand jury doesn’t decide guilt or innocence.
“A grand jury meets in secret,” Walker said. “You listen to witnesses called by the district attorney, then you decide whether or not there’s probable cause that a person likely committed a offense.”
While questioning potential jurors, District Attorney Will Furse further clarified that the burden of proof during grand jury proceedings were far lower than at trial. Probable cause, he said, means that an alleged crime occurred more likely than not, instead of beyond a reasonable doubt.
“A grand jury takes over my day-to-day job to decide if charges should be filed,” said Furse.
If probable cause is found, a grand jury then issues what is called a “true bill.” If probable cause isn’t found, then the grand jury dismisses the allegations and no charges are filed.
Walker informed the jurors that they had the power to subpoena and question witnesses directly. He also reiterated that the grand jury held a “grave responsibility” to the community.
“A grand jury should never misuse its power,” Walker said.
Only the second grand jury to be impaneled under Furse’s administration, the jury is expected to meet every other week for a couple of hours over the next several months. The grand jury is impaneled for a total of 12 months, if not dismissed from their civic duty earlier.
Consisting of 10 men and 6 women, the grand jury includes four alternates, a foreman and an alternate foreman. A quorum of nine is legally required when convened, which could start by the end of October.
After being selected, all members of the grand jury were sworn to secrecy and a promise to diligently investigate the alleged offenses presented without fear or favor.
Furse explained the nature of the secret proceedings was to protect the innocent from community stigmatization, protect the nature of the investigation itself as well as protect the jury members from undue influence.
After each of the jurors indicated they could keep a secret, one asked, “What happens if the secret gets out?”
Furse jokingly responded, stating that jurors would be tortured. He then explained that contempt charges could be filed.
With advice from prosecutors, Walker ultimately hand-selected the grand jury. They included residents from Montezuma and Dolores counties.
Of the 72 potential jurors summoned, those who were excused from service included a Utah resident, a man with a physical disability, a woman who serves as a daily care provider for her disabled mother, a local brewery manager, a man who migrates to Arizona during winter, a local chef, a Rico resident unable to drive at night, a law enforcement livestock inspector and a convicted felon.