Tony Stewart case will go to grand jury (Update)


Tony Stewart

Here are some things to know about a grand jury in New York (primarily from the New York Grand Jury Handbook) and what will happen next:

-Grand jury proceedings are confidential. So we do not know when it is meeting unless a witness speaks publicly. The testimony is only witnessed by the grand jury, the prosecutor and other court personnel, including a stenographer. Any witness can speak publicly after giving testimony.

-The prosecutor, Michael Tantillo, did not have to let anyone know he was taking the case to the grand jury. There is no way of knowing how successful the prosecutor is when going to the grand jury, because in order to protect those investigated but never indicted, there is no public record of the grand jury proceedings. This is a rare case in the sense that everyone knows Stewart was under investigation so there is no confidentiality to worry about in the prosecutor announcing that he is taking it to the grand jury.

-The grand jury consists of 23 people, of which 16 must be present for all testimony. All it takes is for 12 (a majority) to agree for a final decision. The grand jury does not determine whether Stewart is guilty. It only determines if there is legally sufficient evidence of a crime and whether there is reasonable cause to believe that the accused person committed that crime.

-The prosecutor must present to the grand jury what charge he wants the grand jury to deliver so he can prosecute. The prosecutor then presents evidence to back up his case. The prosecutor could have decided on his own that no charges were warranted. But if the prosecutor believes felony charges are warranted, he must get an indictment from a grand jury.

-The grand jury will decide at the end of testimony -which can take a day or as long as several weeks, depending on the availability of witnesses -whether to indict on that charge, indict on a lesser charge or not indict at all. If there is no indictment, the prosecutor cannot bring it back to the grand jury unless the prosecutor gets permission from a judge. The case can go in front of the grand jury at most two times.

-There is no judge during a grand jury. The only time a judge is used is to answer grand jurors’ questions.

-The prosecutor chooses the initial witnesses and evidence presented. There is no cross examination.

-The members of the grand jury can ask questions. The questions often go through the prosecutor to make sure they are relevant and legally proper. The grand jury can also direct the prosecutor to call a witness a second time and can even ask the prosecutor to subpoena a witness to clarify information. Stewart also can suggest witnesses, but it is up to the grand jury to decide whether it wants to hear from any of those witnesses. If the grand jury asks for a witness that the prosecutor believes is not in the public interest, the prosecutor can ask a judge to make a final determination if the witness will be called to testify.

-Stewart, as the defendant, has a right in New York to appear before the grand jury (and he has the right to not appear). His attorney can be present and advise Stewart but cannot object to questions.

-The prosecutor in this case, Michael Tantillo, was elected in 2013 for his seventh consecutive four-year term. He ran unopposed.

-Ward is not from Ontario County. He lived about 140 miles away.

09/16/14 The Ontario County District Attorney's office will take the Tony Stewart case to a grand jury, D.A. Michael Tantillo said in a statement Tuesday afternoon.

Stewart struck and killed Kevin Ward Jr., 20, on Aug. 9 during a sprint car race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park.

"Over the past several weeks, I have reviewed with members of the Ontario County Sheriff's Department their investigation, as it progressed, in the Tony Stewart matter," he said. "Recently that office concluded its work and forwarded the complete case file to me. Upon my review of all of the information contained in the entire investigation, I have made the determination that it would be appropriate to submit the evidence to a grand jury, for their determination as to what action should be taken in this matter.

"Accordingly, the evidence developed in the investigation will be presented to an Ontario County grand jury in the near future."

Tantillo said grand jury proceedings in New York are strictly confidential and he could not say when the matter would be scheduled other than to say it would be in the "near future."

"Similarly, because of the confidential nature of these proceedings, I cannot state who will be called as witnesses, or what any witness's expected testimony will be," he said. "When the presentation has been completed and a determination has been made, I will advise the public and the media at that time of the results."

In a statement, the three-time NASCAR champion said:

"I respect the time and effort spent by both the Ontario County District Attorney and the Sheriff's Office in investigating this tragic accident. I look forward to this process being completed, and I will continue to provide my full cooperation."

Mike Arning, director of communication for Stewart-Haas Racing, confirmed Tuesday Stewart will race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway this weekend. USA Today

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