Grand Juries

Reporter Conversation: Grand Juries Reform in Oregon

Can recording grand jury testimony make Oregon's criminal justice system fairer? Lee van der Voo visited the Think Out Loud studio to discuss that very question.

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Photo: Clackamas County Records Management

Photo: Leah Nash for InvestigateWest

Carol Hopkins, Clackamas Co. Records Management Supervisor, keeps boxes of court records organized at an off-site storage facility. Any notes taken by grand jurors as they hear testimony are stored here under tight security. We needed a judge's order just to access the warehouse and take this photo.

Read our full report on secrecy in the Oregon grand jury system.

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Grand jury reform propelled by Ferguson

DeAnna Horne, a Multnomah Co. public defender, enters court with less armament than her counterparts in states where grand juries are regularly recorded. Defense attorneys elsewhere receive transcripts or recordings detailing why their clients are charged with crimes, but in Oregon no such records exist. 
Photo: Leah Nash for InvestigateWest

Nearly five years ago an unarmed black man was shot during an encounter with police. He had just stepped out of an apartment building with his hands behind his head.

It didn’t happen in Ferguson, Missouri. It happened in Portland, Oregon. And the man who lost his life that day was Aaron Campbell.

His death prompted Mike Schrunk, then-district attorney of Multnomah County, to ask a judge to record the grand jury process that reviewed the shooting. The result was a mountain of transcripts and evidence that daylighted the decision not to indict the officer who shot Campbell.

“I’ve always believed in the system,” said prosecutor Schrunk, but “you’ve got to have the confidence of the public in what you’re doing.”

The policy to record grand juries in cases involving police use of force continues in Multnomah County. This legislative session, a trade group representing defense attorneys will ask the Oregon Legislature to adopt a similar law to record grand juries statewide. And not just for police officers facing charges but for everyone.

The reason? Thirty-six states in this country record what happens at grand juries, the citizen juries that indict people for major crimes. Oregon isn’t one of them.

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Secret testimony: Inside Oregon's grand juries

With grand jury reform elsewhere focused on eliminating racial bias and curbing police use of force, Oregon remains an outlier. It is one of just 14 states that do not regularly record the citizen grand juries that charge people with felonies.

InvestigateWest set out to understand this secretive process as a renewed push for reform has found support in the Oregon Legislature. Photography by Leah Nash for InvestigateWest.

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Map: Where in the U.S. are grand juries recorded?

With grand jury reform elsewhere focused on eliminating racial bias and curbing police use of force, Oregon remains an outlier. It is one of just 14 states that do not regularly record the citizen grand juries that charge people with felonies.

InvestigateWest set out to understand this secretive process as a renewed push for reform has found support in the Oregon Legislature.

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