Davidson County District Attorney General Statement
Davidson County District
Attorney General Statement Regarding Cases Under Convicted Felon and Former
Grand Jury Foreman Eugene Grayer
Davidson County District Attorney General Torry Johnson says prosecutors are using corrective actions to try to repair cases that were indicted during a period of time when the Grand Jury was led by a foreperson who apparently had a felony conviction.
Two weeks ago, it was discovered that Eugene Grayer, a foreperson of the Davidson County Grand Jury during the 2011 summer term, had been convicted of a felony in 1978. Under Tennessee law, a juror who previously has been convicted of a felony offense is ineligible for jury service. The District Attorney's office conducts about 8,000 background checks every year on potential grand jury and trial jury pools, but under Tennessee law, the foreperson is selected personally by the Judge who oversees that term's panel.
"The impact of having a convicted felon serve as a Grand Jury foreperson is a question that has yet to be answered," says Johnson. "There are no cases on point in Tennessee that address that. While it shouldn't have happened, we don't believe it's fatal to these cases. I think it would have to be an extreme case to show that a defendant was prejudiced by this circumstance."
Johnson says he anticipates his office and the courts will see activity by defense counsel on behalf of their clients in upcoming weeks and months. "We won't have a definitive answer until an appellate court rules and gives some guidance."
The Grand Jury is a panel of 13 citizens of the county who meet to hear evidence of criminal activity to determine if there is probable cause to require a defendant to stand trial in a criminal case. Each grand jury serves for a three-month term, during which time that body will hear between 800 to 1,000 cases. "The Grand Jury serves a unique function," says Johnson. "They review cases and focus on probable cause to determine whether a case would go to Criminal Court for resolution."
During the term in question, which ran from July to September 2011, more than 900 True Bills of Indictment were returned. About 800 of those cases have been resolved, most upon pleas of guilty. Presently there are approximately 90 cases pending and yet to be resolved.
Johnson is hopeful that this issue will not affect many of the guilty pleas that have already been completed. In the pending cases, prosecutors have alerted the defense attorneys who have upcoming cases indicted during the term in question as to the issue. Some have already been corrected by using a criminal information, which bypasses the grand jury, or presenting a superseding indictment to the current grand jury.
"It's really too early to say how dramatic this is going to be," Johnson says. "Our office is trying to make best of the circumstances we've been presented with. We won't know the full effects of this until we get an appellate court ruling."
Johnson says as a result of this recent disclosure, he expects judges will approach their Grand Jury foreperson selection differently. He says his office will run background checks on any potential grand jury foreperson candidates the judges consider.