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Lawyers call for changes to grand jury system in wake of Breonna Taylor

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By Nick Reagan | September 30, 2020 at 9:25 PM EDT - Updated September 30 at 11:26 PM

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) -In the wake of the grand jury decision in Kentucky to not charge three police officers with the death of Breonna Taylor, activists in Charleston are now working to change the way grand juries work in South Carolina.

Allie Menegakis is a lawyer and the founder of the group South Carolina for Criminal Justice reform. It’s an organization of lawyers working to root out systematic injustices within the justice system.

“We have focused a lot recently on police use of force and the laws or lack of laws in South Carolina when it comes to when police officers can use force against civilians,” Menegakis said. “We also focus on the efficient judicial procedures for criminal justice specifically when it comes to a lack of speedy trial rules in South Carolina, grand jury proceedings and procedures and effective prosecution and representation of the indigent accused.”

SC4CJR is now taking an even closer look at grand juries.

Grand juries do not decide guilt or innocence. The job of a grand jury is to decide if charges should be filed.

Menegakis says while grand juries are designed to give judicial power to the people, opposed to a single, powerful judge, they have become more of a rubber stamp than a check on abuse of office.

“The grand jury proceeding is not led by a judge, prosecutor, or solicitor in the state. Rather it is led by a law enforcement individual. That individual does not have to have any firsthand experience with the case. Essentially all they are doing is reading the allegations from a summery sheet,” Menegakis said. “There is no investigation that takes place in our local grand jury proceedings, there are no witnesses that are called and there is no ability for the defendant or the accused to request to have certain witnesses called.”

In Kentucky, supporters of Breonna Taylor are demanding to have transcripts of the grand jury’s deliberation released, something that could not happen in South Carolina.

“If the case of Breonna Taylor had happened in South Carolina there would be no ability to get any transcripts from that grand jury proceeding and the reason for that is because there are no recordings. There are no transcripts,” Menegakis said. “In fact, there are no records of what takes place in the grand jury proceeding in South Carolina at the local level.”

Menegakis and SC4CJR do not want to get rid of grand juries but would like to see them change to reflect the times.

“There are two main things that I think need to change in South Carolina. First is transparency. There needs to be some kind of record for what happens during these proceedings,” Menegakis said. “The second thing that needs to change is to reflect different kinds of grand jury systems around the country where the grand jury has more power to listen to witnesses, hear evidence and be instructed on the law.”

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