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Press Release  Committee on Grand Jury Proceedings Proposes Best Practices in Grand Jury Proceedings

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  • Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
  • Massachusetts Court System

Media Contact   for Committee on Grand Jury Proceedings Proposes Best Practices in Grand Jury Proceedings

Jennifer Donahue and Erika Gully-Santiago

BOSTON, MAThe Justices of the Supreme Judicial Court today announced that the Committee on Grand Jury Proceedings has submitted its Final Report to the Justices in which it proposes best practices with respect to grand jury presentments.

All of the recommended best practices are currently employed by one or more prosecutor offices. They are designed to assist grand juries in performing their dual functions of determining probable cause to charge someone with a crime and protecting persons from unfounded criminal prosecution.

"The Justices are grateful to the members of the committee, which included prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges, for their careful and thoughtful work on this project," said Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants. "They all devoted substantial time and effort to reach consensus on these best practices.  I hope the committee's report will be a helpful resource to all participants in the grand jury process, including witnesses, grand jurors and counsel as well as prosecutors."

The recommended best practices are intended to facilitate compliance with existing law and to promote better decision-making by grand juries.  The best practices address issues such as: what to do when grand jury subpoenas yield evidence that the prosecutor deems too inflammatory to present to the grand jury; when grand jurors should be instructed on defenses to the crime or on less serious offenses than the most serious potential charge; what warnings should be given to targets of investigations; and when and how grand jurors should be instructed on the law. The Final Report is available on the court system's website.

The committee’s chair, Superior Court Judge Robert L. Ullmann, said the committee’s work benefitted from a range of public comment, and in particular from comments submitted by the district attorneys. “While many of the district attorneys question the need for best practices for grand jury proceedings, and the role of a judicial committee in this area, they took the time to carefully examine our  recommendations and to submit detailed comments, leading to significant improvements to the best practices and commentary,” Judge Ullmann said.

In highlighting these best practices, the committee aimed to respect the independence of the grand jury, prosecutors’ traditional discretion to decide what charges to present to the grand jury, and the court's duty to preserve the integrity of grand jury proceedings and ensure that the grand jury has the guidance necessary to carry out its responsibilities.

The Committee on Grand Jury Proceedings arose from the Supreme Judicial Court's opinion in Commonwealth v. Grassie, 476 Mass. 202 (2017), in which the Court stated that it would "convene a committee to assist us in gaining a better understanding of current practices employed by the various district attorneys and the Attorney General before considering an extension of the rule" adopted in an earlier decision regarding grand jury presentments. The Court asked the committee “to report on the range of practices employed by the various district attorneys’ offices as well as the office of the Attorney General with respect to grand jury presentments; the reasons supporting the different practices; the substance of the instructions that grand juries receive from those district attorneys who currently provide them; and any recommended best practices.”  The committee’s report summarizes grand jury practices currently employed by the eleven District Attorneys and the Office of the Attorney General and provides commentary to help interpret and apply the best practices.

The committee includes representatives of the judiciary, the Attorney General, the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association, the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and others with experience in grand jury proceedings.

In addition to Superior Court Judge Ullmann, the members of the committee are:

  • Honorable Peter W. Agnes, Jr., Appeals Court
  • Janice Bassil, Esq., Bassil & Budreau, Boston
  • Berkshire County District Attorney Paul J. Caccaviello
  • Honorable Judd J. Carhart, Appeals Court (retired)
  • Assistant Attorney General David E. Clayton, Office of the Attorney General
  • Assistant District Attorney Kevin J. Curtin, Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office
  • Randy Gioia, Esq., Committee for Public Counsel Services
  • Honorable Bertha Josephson, Superior Court (retired)
  • Clinical Professor Diane S. Juliar, Suffolk University Law School
  • Assistant District Attorney Mary E. Lee, Bristol County District Attorney’s Office
  • Kevin M. Mitchell, Esq., Law Office of Kevin M. Mitchell, Chelsea
  • Assistant District Attorney Donna Jalbert Patalano, Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office*

*prior to departure from district attorney’s office


Media Contact   for Committee on Grand Jury Proceedings Proposes Best Practices in Grand Jury Proceedings

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