A Florida woman who was wrongly accused of drug trafficking is entitled to access to the grand jury testimony that resulted in the erroneous charges against her, a federal judge has ruled.
Debra Ann Filipe, Miami, intends to use relevant material from the grand jury proceedings in a civil lawsuit she filed against the government in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.Filipe was indicted by a federal grand jury in Salt Lake City on Oct. 23, 1986, on various drug trafficking charges, including distribution of cocaine. She was arraigned in Salt Lake City on Nov. 10. Nine days later, prosecutors discovered that Filipe was not the person they thought she was and dropped all charges.
Filipe then filed her suit for damages against the government and asked for the grand jury information, a motion the government opposed.
U.S. District Chief Judge Bruce R. Jenkins said that although grand jury proceedings are normally shrouded in secrecy, federal court rules permit the release of information under certain circumstances.
According to Jenkins, the standards for disclosure require a finding that the materials are needed to avoid an injustice in another judicial proceeding; that the need for disclosure is greater than the need for secrecy; and that the request covers only relevant materials.
Filipe's request meets those standards, Jenkins said, adding, "Indeed, it is difficult to imagine a civil case in which the reasons for disclosure would be more compelling."