On Tuesday, February 24, at 9 a.m., (previously incorrectly published as 8 a.m.) the annual selection of the Scott County Grand Jury will take place on the second floor of the Scott County Courthouse. This proceeding is open to the public, and the people should avail themselves of the opportunity to participate in one of the most constitutionally protected authorities still available to hold governments accountable.
The power of the grand jury is enormous. Most of us barely know of its existence, let alone embrace its vital relevance. The Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution (1787) provided for grand juries as a means of checks and balances, ensuring that the people, not government, held the ultimate responsibility for providing justice: “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury ... .”
The 1846 Iowa Constitution (Article 2, Section 11) reads: “No person shall be held to answer for a criminal offence, unless on presentment, or indictment by a grand jury, except in cases cognizable by justices of the peace, or arising in the army or navy, or in the militia when in actual service in time of war or public danger” (RCReader.com/y/jury1).
The 1857 Constitution of the State of Iowa (Bill of Rights, Article I, Section 11), asserts that “All offenses less than felony in which the punishment does not exceed a fine of one hundred dollars, or imprisonment for thirty days, shall be tried summarily before a Justice of the Peace, or other officer authorized by law, on information under oath, without indictment, or the intervention of a grand jury, saving to the defendant the right to appeal, and no person shall be held to answer for any higher criminal offense, unless on presentment or indictment by a grand jury, except in cases arising in the army, or navy, or in the militia, when in actual service, in time of war or public danger.”
Annually, 12 randomly selected members of the community form the Scott County Grand Jury, seven of whom are active, while five are alternates in case one of the seven cannot perform his or her duties. The grand jury has four primary responsibilities: (1) to provide indictments on criminal activities, whether brought by the county attorney or upon its own investigations; (2) to inspect the condition of all places of confinement in the county; (3) to investigate the circumstances involving prisoners who have not been indicted within the legal period of time (45 days upon incarceration); and (4) to investigate and indict misconduct by public employees, including elected and appointed officials.