A grand jury is an institution that only exists in two countries: the United States and Liberia, which was created by former slaves from the U.S. It was a grand jury that decided to indict former U.S. president Donald Trump on charges stemming from his alleged involvement in hush money paid to porn actress Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Trump claims that the indictment is a form of political persecution, casting aspersions on the U.S. justice system and accusing Judge Juan Merchan, who is presiding over the case, of hating him. But do these claims have any basis? With the former president set to be arraigned on Tuesday, EL PAÍS spoke with lawyer Pedro Soriano about how a grand jury is formed, and whether it is vulnerable to political bias.
Q. What is a grand jury?
A. A grand jury is an institution of citizens who are appointed so that prosecutors can present them with a series of witnesses and documents. Once this process is completed, these citizens decide whether criminal charges should be brought against one or more persons. It is a process that does not involve a judge. It is a process in which the only participants are the members of the grand jury and the prosecutor. As a result, the institution of a grand jury has often been criticized because it is a totally unilateral process: only the prosecutor presents evidence. As a prosecutor from Rochester spitefully put it, a grand jury could indict a ham sandwich.
Q. How are members chosen?
A. Grand jury members are usually chosen randomly, they are not chosen on purpose. They are like normal jurors.
Q. What is the risk of bias in the Trump case?
A. It’s possible that there was ideological bias, but this is possible for a very simple reason. The grand jury was elected on the island of Manhattan, and the island of Manhattan is one of the great Democratic strongholds of the United States. So there were inevitably more Democrats than Republicans on that grand jury, which is logical. But with the facts as we know them, we cannot say that this is a purely political process.
Q. What about Judge Merchan?
A. Judge Merchan was first appointed by Michael Bloomberg, who is now a Democrat, but when he appointed him he was a Republican. He is also a judge who has a pretty clear reputation of being a tough and an honest judge; a judge with no major political biases.
And this doesn’t just go for Judge Merchan. Contrary to what one might think, the New York judicial system is not plagued by extremely liberal judges, quite the opposite.
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