Sen. Darrell Renstrom, D-North Ogden, told a legislative interim committee Wednesday that proposed changes in the grand jury system provide more protections to targets of investigations.
"We all are the products of our own experience," Renstrom told members of the Judicial Interim Committee, asking for more checks and balances for defendants. The senator was acquitted Aug. 19 of a sexual-assault charge.Following his acquittal, Renstrom said he had "gone through 45 days of living hell." He wants to protect other defendants from experiencing unjustified harassment.
As a defense attorney, Renstrom defended a client indicted by a grand jury in Weber County. "The charges were defenseless, and he had to pay me a lot of money. My experiences with a grand jury have not been pleasant," he said.
Indictments handed up by the Weber County grand jury during the past several years have produced zero convictions, he said.
In the midst of controversy surrounding the much-publicized Salt Lake County grand jury investigation into Utah Power & Light, former County Attorney Ted L. Cannon and two county investigators, a task force began a thorough investigation of Utah's grand jury process.
The result of the evaluation was presented Wednesday in the form of proposed legislation that could dramatically change the current grand jury system. Providing those targeted by a grand jury with more protection is one of the significant changes.
Presiding 3rd District Judge Scott Daniels, a member of the grand jury task force, told legislators "grand jurors are prone to indict whomever they are asked by the prosecutors to indict. Only one side of the story is presented them." He also criticized the current grand jury system as being "too expensive, too cumbersome and too subject to abuse."
Rod Snow, who served as the special prosecutor for the 1986 grand jury that received convictions on criminal charges against Cannon and two investigators and negotiated concessions with UP&L, said much had been learned from the problems of the past grand jury.
The proposed legislation clarifies the rights of those under investigation, he said.
For instance, those investigated by the grand jury will have the right to have an attorney advise them.
Also, a person will have the right to present evidence to show his or her innocence - another right denied by Utah's previous county grand juries.
"Our committee recommended these changes because we wanted grand jurors to hear the whole story," Snow said.
However, to balance the rights of those targeted with the rights of victims, the standard of proof required by the grand juries has been lowered from "beyond reasonable doubt" to the lesser standard - clear and convincing evidence.
Because the question of "Who Pays?" plagued the 1986 grand jury, the proposed legislation places the financial responsibility as a budget line item with the Utah Court of Appeals.
It is also recommended that the Court of Appeals have jurisdiction for a statewide grand jury system so investigators could reach beyond county boundaries in its investigation, said Snow.
The task force was composed of judges, defense attorneys, prosecutors and law professors. Snow believes their recommendations, which will be considered at the Oct. 19 interim committee meeting, are fair, balanced and a substantial improvement.
"This legislation clarifies a lot of issues the old legislation left open to controversy."