Citizens group wants common law grand jury in Westmoreland County
By Rich Cholodofsky
Published: Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
A citizens group filed court documents on Friday seeking to convene a common law grand jury in Westmoreland County, but legal experts say such a body has no real authority.
It's the latest of a number of similar filings throughout the nation by people wanting to empanel investigating grand juries that are separate from the government. Citizens in the group would seek jurors from the local population, then make presentments to prosecutors.
Locally, groups in Allegheny and Beaver counties have issued the same call.
The move, however, is not backed by the law, according to a local official and a legal scholar.
“This is a rogue band of citizens with no legal authority,” said Wes Oliver, associate professor and director of the criminal justice program at Duquesne University School of Law. “To what extent there was ever a common law grand jury system that was self-creating, there no longer is.”
The Westmoreland group, founded by Tom Altman of Greensburg, wants to convene a grand jury that is not presided over by a judge and/or convened by county or state prosecutors.
Altman claims his grand jury is legitimate under the law and the Constitution.
But legal experts say that in 1946, the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure were established, doing away with the common law grand jury model.
District Attorney John Peck said grand juries must be approved by the courts.
“I don't know there is a statute or procedural rule that allows citizens to convene grand juries,” Peck said.
Altman filed documents with Clerk of Courts Bryan Kline seeking to formalize the grand jury process. Kline said he was required under state law to accept the filing.
Altman said he paid the $21.40 filing fee under protest.
“We're working to undo tyranny that's been done,” he said. “We're stirring a pot that's real big, but it has to be stirred.”
Unless common law grand juries are officially recognized by the courts, prosecutors offered presentments or individuals subpoenaed by the self-formed grand juries would not be legally compelled to cooperate, Oliver said.
Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Judge to Cook Township drug suspect: Get new friends
- Westmoreland man’s walk in Niagara Falls State Park wasn’t allowed, police say
- Homicide charge added in Derry death
- Murrysville police will get raises in 5-year pact
- Pittsburgh man charged with threat to witness
- Greensburg Salem raising funds for fitness equipment
- Mt. Pleasant board to vote on contract with Volz
- Greensburg woman publishes memoir of growing up in Fayette in ‘The Girl Factory’
- Yukon shelter group at odds with former leader
- Commissioning of USS Somerset honors United Airlines Flight 93 heroes
- Scottdale council to meet Monday