What is the role of the prosecutor in the grand jury?
The investigative grand jury as we know it was developed during the Nixon years, purportedly to battle organized crime, although it was promptly used to subpoena members of anti-war groups, the women’s movement, and black liberation groups. Prosecutors issued subpoenas in conjunction with grants of immunity in order to compel testimony, and routinely had resistant activists imprisoned for contempt.
The grand jury subpoena, combined with compulsory immunity (which strips people of their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination), gives unrestrained powers to U.S. prosecutors to oppress activists and their communities. Although, generally, people have no obligation to cooperate with law enforcement investigations, in the context of a grand jury subpoena, people who refuse to talk about their first amendment beliefs and associations can be locked away, or fined, as sanctions for their principled refusal.
In 12th through 18th century England, grand jurors who even allowed a prosecutor to come into the grand jury room were seen as having violated their oath. Now, the grand jury process means the prosecutor decides what the grand jurors see – and what they don’t see.
A prosecutor’s presentation of a case is shaped by their own ideas and goals. There does not need to be any misconduct or bad intent on the part of a prosecutor to influence the grand jurors in a way that destroys their independence.