Sports Law Blog
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Saturday, July 21, 2007
The Legal Significance vs. Reputational Significance of an Indictment
ESPN columnist Mike Sando has an excellent column on how many have rushed to presume Michael Vick's guilt based on the indictment and its support documents, when there is a significant chance, based on the very demanding criminal conviction standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt" and on the fact that the government's evidence has not yet been studied or challenged, that Vick will be found not guilty.
As I wrote about a few days ago, grand jury hearings are typically secret and one-sided in favor of the government. The prosecutor decides which witnesses to call and which witnesses receive immunity. The basic questioning is done by the prosecutor, and the defendant doesn't even have a right to have his or her attorney present. Even worse for the defendant, an indictment only requires "probable cause," meaning more likely than not--a far cry from "beyond a reasonable doubt" for a criminal conviction. There has been much criticism of grand juries as unfair devices for the prosecution, and that they have been misused as tools to shame defendants, especially in high-profile cases.
Sando interviews a number of criminal lawyers for his column, including Maryland-based defense attorney Jonathan L. Katz, who tells him:
The prosecutor can get an automobile indicted. The prosecutor puts in the witnesses that he wants and then at the end he says, 'Look, here's an indictment, please agree to it. It just requires the grand jury members to find there is probable cause to believe that a crime occurred. Well, probable cause is not much more than a hunch.Sando also interviews Charlottesville, Va., attorney Neal Walters, a regular lecturer at the University of Virginia:
In point of fact, it's incredibly rare for a grand jury not to issue an indictment. It makes good drama on TV, but in that sense, if the U.S. attorney goes to grand jury, it's highly likely they are going to get an indictment.
My former criminal investigations professor, Charles Whitebread, is also interviewed by Sando (some of you may know Professor Whitebread from the BarBri videos, and for those of you taking the bar exam next week, good luck):
For the rest of Sando's column, click here. He also raises a number of good points about how Commissioner Roger Goodell has likely handled this situation well.