The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Local News

December 7, 2013

Such panels lack authority, officials say

MERCER — Those are among the rights enshrined in the U.S. and Pennsylvania constitutions.

But the people themselves have no authority to formally accuse anyone of anything, both officials say.

“Investigative power lies with the police, the district attorney and the attorney general,” Judge Thomas R. Dobson said, rejecting any claim that the people have the right to convene grand juries, investigate cases and make presentments of their findings to the district attorney for prosecution in court.

The nation’s founders set up its government with executive, legislative and judicial branches and the use of grand juries has changed since the 18th century, he said.

“There are statutory provisions that set out when and how charges can be brought,” Dobson said. “It’s not complicated.”

In Pennsylvania, the constitutional convention held in 1968 “did away with the need for grand juries as they were formerly used,” he said. “Grand juries can still be organized, but how and when they operate is described and regulated by statute.”

The recent interest by some people in Pennsylvania and other states to reinstate common law grand juries may be a political issue, but those advocates’ claims - largely driven by Internet websites - that statutory law is invalid are their political opinions, not the law, Dobson said.

Any such grand juries that may be formed could expose members to prosecution if they violate the law, he said.

“I would advise them to speak with counsel,” Dobson said. “There is no authority under the law for them to force people to come and speak with them. Trying to compel people to answer their questions may well violate the criminal statutes of the commonwealth.”

In a National Liberty Alliance video shown Thursday to a group of people who voted to empanel such a jury, website founder John Darash claimed authority for them by citing a 1992 Supreme Court case, United States v. Willams, where Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, described a grand jury as “a constitutional fixture in its own right” ... “serving as a kind of buffer or referee between the government and the people.”

District Attorney Robert G. Kochems scoffed at that interpretation of the case which he said centered not on grand juries but on investigative methods used by a federal agency.

“The language they are claiming as authority for themselves is a comparison statement explaining the difference between the way a government agency was doing its investigations and how a grand jury operates,” Kochems said. “They took it out of context so they got the law wrong, and they went off the deep end from there.”

Dobson and Kochems both said people who want to reform government can work through channels that always have been open to them to amend the Constitution if they think that’s needed. They can also run for office themselves.

“These are people who are either crazy or too lazy to run for the political offices they want to influence,” Kochems said. “If you want to have a role in government, then you have to do some work and spend some of your money to put your ideas in front of others to see if they agree with you and will support you. That’s our electoral process.”

Kochem said advocates of grand jury reinstatement are “taking advantage of newspaper attention they don’t deserve to make the argument that the courts should accept their filings, which isn’t the case. Then they want to jump up and down and call attention to themselves when their efforts lead nowhere.”

Text Only
Local News
  • Drilling boom challenges state inspectors

    The state’s 83 well inspectors face a daunting enough challenge keeping tabs on 120,000 active oil and gas wells that have been drilled over the last century.

    July 28, 2014

  • Kidds Mill Covered Bridge A span of time

    Four generations of the Cadman family have enjoyed the Kidds Mill Covered Bridge, which is in Pymatuning Township near where the family’s ancestral farm is located.

    July 28, 2014 3 Photos

  • Intruder hurts woman, takes $5

    A home invasion in Hermitage Friday night sent an elderly woman to the hospital and netted the robber $5.

    July 27, 2014

  • national night out March against crime set for Aug. 5

    At the last Southwest Mercer County Regional Police Commission meeting, Chief Riley Smoot Jr. presented the number of incidents for each of the four communities in May.

    Farrell topped out at 819.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • high street trail Peaceful pathways

    History buffs and picnickers in the Shenango Valley won’t have to drive to Sharpsville to hang out at the old Erie Canal extension lock. They’ll soon have the option to walk or roll in on bicycles and even powered chairs to visit Canal Park near the outflow of Shenango Dam.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • balloonquest1 Balloon Quest celebrates 25 years

    Today is the final day of the 25th annual Western Pennsylvania Balloon Quest at Scotland Meadows Park.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • News briefs from July 26, 2014

    Man faces bomb threat charges

    June building tops $4 million in Hermitage

    July 26, 2014

  • Elderly man survives plane crash

    An elderly man survived wrecking his plane into a bank, then landing into a wetland, about 200 feet south of Runway 28 at Grove City Regional Airport in Springfield Township on Friday.

    July 26, 2014

  • Dontae Rashad Pinkins Man arrested for April gunfight

    Federal marshals and local police arrested Dontae Rashad Pinkins Thursday on a warrant accusing him of involvement in an April gunfight with another man in a Sharon alley.

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • Hearing changed in starving case

    The time and place for the preliminary hearing of a Greenville mom accused of starving and beating her 7-year-old young son has been changed.

    July 26, 2014

  • Schell working on mural Drawn to Mexico

    Jason Schell probably is not exaggerating when he says that millions of people have seen his art.

    July 26, 2014 4 Photos

  • Farrell man, 24, arrested on warrant in connection with April shooting

    Federal marshals and local police arrested Dontae Rashad Pinkins Thursday on a warrant accusing him of involvement in an April shootout in Sharon.

    Pinkins, 24, of Farrell, is in Mercer County Jail after failing to post bond on gun charges.

    Additional details to follow.

    July 25, 2014

  • Firm will study timing of traffic signals

    Hermitage commissioners on Wednesday hired Whitman, Requardt and Associates LLP to study the timing scheme of traffic signals along parts of Hermitage Road and East State Street.

    July 25, 2014

  • 3 area fire depts. awarded grants

    Three area fire departments will share in more than $590,000 in grants meant to help Pennsylvania’s rural communities guard against the threat of fires in forests and other undeveloped areas, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Ellen Ferretti announced.

    July 25, 2014

  • One suspect in home shooting is jailed

    The first of three suspects police say were involved in an attempted robbery that ended in a shooting is in jail.

    July 25, 2014