The Portland Mercury | By Doug Brown
The Multnomah County District Attorney’s office will phase out using secretive grand juries in most felony cases, according to a letter District Attorney Rod Underhill sent to Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Nan Waller this summer. The prosecutor’s office will instead rely on preliminary hearings in open court, where a judge will determine if felony cases can go forward.
The grand jury system is a secretive process where prosecutors behind closed doors present evidence against a suspect to seven civilians, who decide whether there’s enough probable cause to indict the person with a felony. Until Senate Bill 505 passed earlier this year, nobody, not even defense attorneys, could know what happened in the grand jury.
That will soon be scrapped here, in most cases, in favor of a more public procedure. Starting in November, county prosecutors will send felony drug cases (manufacture, delivery, possession) to a preliminary hearing instead of a grand jury. Preliminary hearings are held in open court, where prosecutors and defense attorneys present their side to a judge, who then rules if there’s enough evidence to go forward.