House seeks to reinstate statewide grand jury law

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STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MARCH 11, 2015…..The House on Wednesday voted to reinstate the statewide grand jury system after legislators allowed the law authorizing that system to lapse Dec. 31.

Attorney General Maura Healey on Tuesday urged lawmakers to reauthorize the program, saying it helped her office prosecute human trafficking, gun trafficking and drug trafficking crimes.

“These are crimes that know no county bounds,” Healey told the House and Senate Ways and Means committees. “But in the absence of a statewide grand jury our prosecutors have to go county by county in order to secure indictments.”

The Senate could take up the spending bill next week, according to an aide to Senate President Stanley Rosenberg.

A statewide grand jury was used to bring charges against Annie Dookhan, the former crime lab chemist whose inventions and mishandling of drug evidence threw thousands of convictions into limbo. Dookhan is currently in the state’s correctional facility for women in Framingham serving her sentence after pleading guilty, according to the Department of Correction.

In recent years the statewide grand jury has been used to indict a child pornographer from Granby, a Latin Kings gang member from Lynn and a former prosecutor from Somerville who traded privileged information for painkiller pills.

Authorization for the statewide grand jury expired New Year’s Eve.

Without any debate the House tacked onto a spending bill language that would re-authorize the statewide grand jury until Dec. 31, 2020.

In her testimony Tuesday, Healey said the statewide grand jury provides a more efficient means of delivering justice than seeking indictments in separate courts in the different counties where a crime occurred. Healey said the statewide grand jury also minimizes the trauma experienced by victims who might otherwise be called to testify multiple times.

Under a 2009 law, the attorney general could apply to use the statewide grand jury with “good cause.” Superior court officials would then select a county and courthouse to conduct the grand jury, which could include jurors from neighboring counties. The trial would then be held in “any county where venue would otherwise by proper.”

The statewide grand jury authorization was included in an ethics reform law passed in 2009 after the resignation of former Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, but before he was convicted on corruption charges by a federal jury.

Last year the House struck the statewide grand jury’s sunset clause in its version of the budget but the language was dropped by the Senate.

[Colleen Quinn contributed reporting]

Copyright 2015 State House News Service

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