The process of a grand jury indictment is largely mystifying to the average citizen. When the grand jury decided not to indict Cleveland Police Officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback in the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, the process of the grand jury fell under the microscope. When news broke Wednesday that the grand jury never actually took a vote on the matter, according to the Cuyahoga County, Ohio, Prosecutor's Office, the purpose of a grand jury became more confounding.
The Root spoke to attorney Russell Neverdon, executive director of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Inmate Grievance Office in Baltimore, to break down the purpose of a grand jury and how it factored into the Tamir Rice case.
The Root: So what does a "no vote" mean as it relates to the Tamir Rice case? And what do a "true bill" and a "no bill" mean?
Russell Neverdon: It translates that after listening to the evidence presented … the grand jury did not find that there was enough for them to vote in confidence to move forward with criminal charges. There was no evidence or anything presented for them to go on, so no vote actually took place.
"True bill" means that [the grand jury has] gone through and listened to the evidence presented and made a determination that there is sufficient evidence or probable cause [to] proceed with felony charges.
"No bill" says, although we have listened to the evidence and taken a vote, we don't find that there is enough to bring formal charges against the person.
A "no vote" suggests that [the grand jury] didn't even bother to vote on it, which means there was nothing to operate on. Either there was nothing ever presented for [the grand jury] to make a vote or it was so insignificant that they didn't get to the point where it warranted them to say, "Let us come together." It was a piss-poor presentation.
You can indict a ham sandwich as a prosecutor. It is a secret convening of a hearing. It's one-sided. It is biased because it is the prosecution and the prosecution alone that presents their case. For you to not come back with an indictment means that you have a bad case and you shouldn't have brought it in the first place or you intentionally botched it.
TR: So did they intentionally botch it? It seems that there would be enough evidence in the Tamir Rice case that police didn't follow proper protocol. Wasn't there enough evidence?
RN: Of course there was. You look at the video evidence and you know there was enough evidence for them to say that this was reckless and there was no need for that to happen and it was excessive. Even in the approach, it was excessive. It is all in the presentation. The interesting thing would be to get the transcript of what was actually presented.
I have heard of cases that have been botched, but never this bad. We didn't have video evidence back then. Now everybody has a cellphone or body cam or camcorder; there's so much equipment to capture what's going on.
TR: Does a no vote happen a lot?
RN: A no vote is rare. This is the first I've heard of a no vote, and particularly one that is associated with something so egregious.
TR: What's the reasoning behind a grand jury?
RN: Well, there's [a] criminal information; there's a murder or a shooting, and there's a camera that shows evidence and/or witnesses. The police start the process.
Go before a grand jury—there has been some investigation in play, but cases will go before a grand jury because there's something that's missing that doesn't solidify [the prosecution's] cases. Cases can also go before a grand jury depending on how much is in their docket, do they have time, how much publicity is on it or what are your marching orders.
In order to charge someone with a felony, you can go before a criminal information or you can [go] before a grand jury for an indictment.
TR: People have been critical of grand juries …
RN: Grand juries have historically been challenged as to [their] constitutionality as well as [the] fundamental concept of fairness. It's a process of secrecy and undermines the basic principles of due process. How you lay out your case for presentment for a grand jury requires very little, especially when it's a one-sided process.
TR: So what can be done? I know there's a civil case, but what else can Tamir's lawyers or family do?
RN: In Maryland we have a law that if there is dissatisfaction with the public body that they can proceed and ask to appear before the grand jury. They may have something similar in Ohio.