On March 21, the 6th Judicial District (La Plata, Archuleta, and San Juan counties) empaneled a new grand jury of 12 regular and four alternate members. These residents will meet about one evening a month for the next year to hear evidence of serious crimes from the District Attorney’s Office and decide whether it is sufficient to indict and prosecute the suspects. The grand jury stands between the accused and overzealous prosecutors while at the same time protecting the public by seeing that serious crimes do not go unprosecuted.
I know this because of a very thorough briefing by Chief Judge Gregory Lyman to a courtroom packed with potential grand jurors. I was among about 120 people who were summoned to appear for possible service. There were so many potential jurors that the first item of business was to draw 15 names to be immediately excused, in order to reduce the occupancy of the courtroom to fire department limits. Then 16 names were drawn as possible jurors. Of those, a handful were disqualified for various reasons and replaced with others drawn at random. In all, about 25 people were actually called and questioned by the district attorney before he declared the panel accepted.
The requirements were not particularly difficult: the ability to meet as needed, apply best judgment to the evidence presented and keep deliberations secret. It was not hard to find 16 such residents in Southwest Colorado. So why was it necessary to inconvenience more than 100 residents? Most seemed happy to appear and willing to serve but bemused by why so many of us were required in order to make a selection. Couldn’t an equally good result have been achieved with less than half as many people having to be called?