Foreman says prosecutors manipulate grand jury BALTIMORE COUNTY

January 22, 1993|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Staff Writer

Baltimore County's outgoing grand jury foreman has fired a stinging criticism at the state's attorney's office for allegedly trying to "manipulate and intimidate" the grand jury and for other alleged misconduct.

In a supplement to the full grand jury report, Lawrence A. Levy charges that the state's attorney's office dominates the grand -- jury, improperly uses "stand in" witnesses unfamiliar with the cases they are testifying about and has treated alleged police misconduct less harshly than civilian misconduct.

The grand jury foreman's criticisms were harsher than those contained in the 59-page main report, which is endorsed by all 23 members of the grand jury that served from September to January.

"As a procedural safeguard intended in part for the protection of those accused of crime, the current grand jury process in Baltimore County is clearly deficient in a number of particulars," wrote Mr. Levy, a lawyer who works for the federal government.

First, although the grand jury is supposed to be an "independent" body, grand jurors were "so totally dominated by the prosecutorial team that any semblance of independence was quickly lost," wrote Mr. Levy.

He further charged that some assistant state's attorneys sought to "curtail or limit our areas of inquiry . . . leading many members to remark upon what were perceived as overt attempts to manipulate and intimidate the grand jury."

Sue A. Schenning, a deputy state's attorney for Baltimore County, denied Mr. Levy's charges, saying he was simply wrong in some instances and mistaken in others.

With regard to prosecutors limiting grand jurors' questions, Mrs. Schenning said there are some lines of inquiry, such as whether a defendant has a criminal record, that jurors legally cannot pursue when considering whether to indict someone.

She also said the state's attorney's office does not use so-called "stand-in" witnesses. "Our practice is to bring in [police] officers who have worked on the case," she said.

However, Mrs. Schenning admitted that sometimes, especially in complex criminal investigations, a testifying officer may not be familiar with all aspects of a case.

Mrs. Schenning emphatically denied Mr. Levy's allegation that the state's attorney's office has gone lightly on police officers.

"If anything, we take our obligation very seriously," she said. "We pursue all of those cases that we can legally pursue and we prosecute them to the full extent of our authority."

In his report, Mr. Levy wrote, "Although a felony indictment was requested against an officer who allegedly altered a parking ticket for a friend, an extremely minimalist approach was taken by the state's attorney's office in far more serious cases of alleged police misconduct."

Mrs. Schenning said, "The cases he referred to are cases where we had no prosecution case, or there were no higher charges, no higher charges that we could legally bring."

Because grand jury proceedings are secret, Mr. Levy and other grand jurors, as well as Mrs. Schenning, are not allowed to discuss in detail specific cases brought before the panel.

Another criticism leveled by Mr. Levy was that grand jury testimony is not transcribed by a court reporter, except when it seemed to suit the purposes of the state's attorney's office.

Judge Edward A. DeWaters Jr., administrative judge of the county's Circuit Court, said that the court doesn't have enough money to transcribe all grand jury testimony and he said that defendants don't get that testimony as a "matter of right."

As a whole, the grand jury also suggested that the county spend more money on crime lab equipment, and that the sheriff's department start using inmate labor for public works projects. It also suggested that the state reduce the number of youths held at the Charles H. Hickey School, while increasing the length of stay for youths held there.

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