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.”

1
Text Only
Local News
  • Prison term upheld for sex offender

    A sex offender challenging a 4- to 8-year prison sentence for a probation violation lost an appeal of that sentence.

    April 23, 2014

  • Man, 24, must register as sex offender for life

    The Ohio man who exposed himself to Sharon girls on their way to school last fall must register as a sexual offender for the rest of his life when he gets out of jail.

    April 23, 2014

  • Man deemed predator – for now

    A former Sharon man was sent to the state prison system Tuesday for corrupting the morals of a teenage girl, but the question of whether his penalties under Megan’s Law will stand could be subject to future legal proceedings.

    April 23, 2014

  • Not even waste will be wasted

    Tom Darby admits he wishes the startup of the anaerobic digestion process at the Hermitage Water Pollution Control Plant had moved along much faster.

    April 23, 2014

  • 3rd Earth Fest draws families to Penn State

    Penn State Shenango’s Earth Fest has become a spring tradition for area residents.
    Families poured into downtown Sharon for the campus’ third annual sustainability celebration.

    April 22, 2014

  • Amish clean Shenango River Volunteers protect Shenango River

    Shenango River Watchers has spent more than a decade working to clean up the Shenango and improve recreational access to its water and banks.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • For many, recycling’s become way of life

    When Pennsylvania mandated curbside recycling for its larger municipalities in 1998 – those with more than 5,000 people – there was grumbling about government interference in the lives of everyday people.

    April 22, 2014

  • Many items can’t be thrown away

    The computer screen in front of you isn’t likely to do you much harm, at least not until it’s tossed in a landfill where the lead-filled components start to leak and eventually find their way into your drinking water, according to Jerry Zona, director of the Lawrence-Mercer County Recycling/Solid Waste department.

    April 22, 2014

  • David Sykes' solar panels Earthworks

    While touring Germany last year, David Sykes spotted solar panels resting in a residential back yard.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Burned using Icy Hot, woman claims

    A Grove City woman has sued Chattem Inc. and Rite Aid of Pennsylvania Inc., alleging she suffered a second-degree chemical burn using one of Chattem’s Icy Hot pain relief products.

    April 21, 2014

  • Family outing Family friendly

    “We’re No. 5’’ isn’t a sports cheer you’ll hear any time soon.
    But considering the lumps the greater area has gotten over the years on economic rankings, it’s an outright victory.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • To demolish or not Tear it down? Fix it up?

    In 2007, Richard D. Givens bought a home at 831 Knobwood Drive in Hermitage for $245,000.
    Today, the city of Hermitage is seeking the demolition of the now-vacant house, arguing the damage from water infiltration makes the structure not worth saving.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • News briefs from April 19, 2014

    April 19, 2014

  • Man admits having child porn

    A Mercer man accused of soliciting and downloading photographs of nude teenage girls pleaded guilty April 8 to sexual abuse of children for possessing child pornography.

    April 19, 2014

  • Police getting new tool to fight crime

    Sharon police working at crime scenes will be putting a powerful new investigative tool to work as soon as next month.

    April 19, 2014