- Associated Press - Monday, July 6, 2015

WHEELING, W.Va. (AP) - An Ohio County judge isn’t happy with tactics used by the county prosecutor’s office to obtain criminal indictments.

Circuit Judge David Sims said the office’s tactics are legal but they undermine the grand jury process.

Sims’ criticism came in a recent criminal case in which a Wheeling police detective who wasn’t among the initial investigators testified before the grand jury, The Intelligencer and Wheeling-News Register (https://bit.ly/1KDxsFL) reported.

Sims denied a defense request to dismiss the case. But he added a note to the order saying that the prosecution’s tactics make a mockery of the grand jury process.

“Based upon this court’s limited experience, this is the standard practice of the state,” Sims wrote. “There is nothing wrongful about this practice. Under current law, the state could pull a random person off the street on the morning of the grand jury, have the person sworn, call the person before the grand jury, read the police report to the person and have the person off the street simply answer ‘yes’ or ‘correct’ to every leading question.”

Sims said such a practice would not be illegal but it would be “repugnant.”

“The state maintains the facade by calling a law enforcement officer, instead of a person off the street. While the West Virginia Supreme Court should address this issue, it is unlikely to happen as there is no political capital to be gained from protecting the legal process and the fair administration of justice in a case involving allegations of violence,” the judge wrote.

Ohio County prosecutor Scott Smith said his office complies with the law in handling grand jury proceedings.

“We use police officers who know about the case as witnesses to the grand jury,” he told the newspaper.

Wheeling defense attorney Justin Hershberger agreed with the judge’s criticism.

“It undermines the grand jury process,” Hershberger told the newspaper. “If a member of the grand jury has a question for the witness, the witness may not have knowledge of the information if he did not, in fact, investigate the case. What they are doing is legal, but it’s unfair.”


Information from: The Intelligencer, https://www.theintelligencer.net

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