On December 5, 2014, as part of the HuffPost Live, Pace Professor of Law and Director of the Pace Criminal Justice Institute Lissa Griffin joined Roger Fairfax, Professor of Law at George Washington University, and the host Josh Zepps for a live discussion about the role and function of grand juries in the US justice system. Josh Zepps introduces the segment by saying that
[i]n the span of two weeks, two grand juries have failed to indict cops involved in the death of unarmed black men. Most counties don’t even have grand juries. Why do we? How do they work? And what can be done to fix our flawed legal system?
The two guests explain what grand jury is, how it operates, how it decides to indict, the role of the prosecutor during grand jury proceedings, and the lack of judicial involvement during this stage. The discussion further progressed to consider comparative perspectives, including the French, German, and English indictment procedures.
Prof. Bennett L. Gershman of Pace Law School continues to cover the Zimmerman trial. This time he focuses on the judge’s instruction to the jury to disregard a witness’ testimony that Zimmerman had testified truthfully. As often occurs during trials, statements that should have not been made are made, and the jury hears them. The judge then follows with a simple instruction that tells the jury to “disregard the statement.”
However, Prof. Gershman asks, “Are juries capable or willing to follow such instructions?” In fact, as he points out, it isn’t just that something improper was said but also that it was followed by the explicit instruction to disregard that something. This instruction makes it even more difficult for the jury to, as Prof. Gershman puts it, “un-ring the bell.”
What do you think? Will the jury in Zimmerman trial be able to disregard the witness’ statement about Mr. Zimmerman testifying truthfully? But more generally, does a judge’s instruction to disregard evidence make it harder for the jury to disregard it?