The fate of Tony Stewart is now in the hands of a grand jury, and there is no worse place to be. Here is the bottom line reality of what's taking place…
The job of a grand jury is to protect defendants from aggressive prosecutors by carefully weighing the evidence and only bringing an indictment when overwhelming probable cause exists. And grand juries did their jobs for over 150 years until the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure were passed in 1944, corrupting the process and rigging the game in favor of prosecutors.
The public imagines grand juries to be bastions of fairness and justice, but nothing could be further from the truth. Today's grand juries are not permitted to hear the defendant's attorney. At all. The defendants themselves are rarely allowed to speak. There is no judge present to intervene or assure the rights of the defendant, and the defense attorney is not permitted to cross examine witnesses or present evidence that might prove his client's innocence.
The only people permitted to speak during a grand jury hearing is the prosecutor and his witnesses. The entire process is a one-sided joke.
It is no surprise then that today's grand juries merely rubber-stamp any charge that a prosecutor files, regardless of how absurd it might be. Of the 122,879 federal cases heard between 1994 and 1998, prosecutors failed to get indictments in only 83 instances (Dept of Justice, 1999). The latest statistics from the Legal Times show that even today, more than 99.9% of all grand juries, both state and federal, indict the defendant on any and all charges the prosecutor brings.
New York state chief judge Sol Wachtler once famously said, “A grand jury would indict a ham sandwich if that's what you wanted." Grand juries are a public embarrassment and an insult to justice.
The prosecutor in Tony Stewart's case, Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo, presided over the wrongful accusation of a man jailed for murder, and the prosecutor withheld information that could have exonerated him (Simpson v. Ontario, 2009). Tantillo also bought a witness by offering immunity from prosecution in exchange for testimony and then attempted to cover it up during questioning, drawing three citations for misconduct from the judge (Morrice v. Ontario, 2007).
So here is the situation – Tony Stewart is at the mercy of a corrupt prosecutor and a gutless grand jury that will approve any charge on a whim.
At this point there are only two things that will prevent Stewart from facing criminal charges. First, Stewart's lawyers could simply buy off the prosecution. Yes, this happens thousands of times every day in the land of the formerly free. Don't kid yourself. But the prosecutor will be hesitant to accept a bribe in such a high profile case.
Secondly, Tantillo might decide that prosecuting this case is bad for his political career. He could deliberately present a weak case to the grand jury to make sure that Stewart is not indicted. This is Stewart's best hope. Tantillo is buying time right now to decide what he will do, and he's using the grand jury for leverage. That's one of the reasons why the case has gone to a grand jury at all. Believe it or not, in most states prosecutors can bypass the grand jury entirely if they like.
So the whole grand jury routine is a ruse. If Tantillo decides that it is beneficial to his career to prosecute Tony Stewart, the grand jury will indict on any charges he requests. If Tantillo decides that the case is not beneficial to his career, he can deliberately botch the grand jury presentation and then blame the jury for not bringing charges. Either way, Tantillo escapes public condemnation.
This is why Tony Stewart will likely be indicted, as are more than 99% of all grand jury cases. This is the way things work in a country that imprisons more of its own people than any nation on earth.
And if you think this situation is rough on a guy who is named “Tony Stewart," just think what it must be like for all the people who aren't.
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