By Amy E. Feldman
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) –New York Justice Sol Wachtler once said that grand juries were so likely to file criminal indictments, he could get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. And yet, in several high profile cases including those in Ferguson, and Staten Island, grand juries did not indict police officers who shot people. So what is a grand jury anyway, and why do they have power to decide who gets arrested?READ MORE: Officials Investigating Gas Explosion Inside Home In South Philadelphia
A grand jury is a group of people who, like regular jurors, get called and sit for jury duty. But unlike regular jurors who hear cases where people have been charged with a crime, a grand jury is there to decide if charges should be brought in the first place. And that is – or should be – a low standard.READ MORE: GameStop Employee Shot During Attempted Robbery In Philadelphia's Lawncrest Section, Police Say
They don’t have to decide if someone is guilty. Only if there’s probable cause to believe he might have committed a crime.
And, while it’s usually the police who decide whether to arrest someone, in cases where the person who may be arrested is a police officer, it’s the practice to send those cases to a grand jury so the police aren’t filing – or failing to file – a charge against one of their own.MORE NEWS: Gary And Lorraine Parker, Missing Ocean County Couple, Found Dead
That’s why they leave that up to the grand jury to decide, whose decision may or may not seem kosher to outside observers.