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Back to 1999 Headlines

3/18/1999

Grand jury secrecy is law

by John Fryar
Daily Times-Call

DENVER -- Gov. Bill Owens has signed into law the bill that allows judges to keep grand jurors' identities secret.

House Bill 1162, from Pueblo Republican Rep. Joyce Lawrence and Westminster Republican Sen. Ken Arnold, took effect immediately when Owens signed it Monday.

The measure says the court ``may close to the public part or all'' of the grand jury-selection process, when that's ``reasonably necessary to protect the grand jury process or the security of the grand jurors.''

House Bill 1162 further allows judges -- either on their own, or at the district attorney's request -- to ``enter an order to preserve the confidentiality of all information that might identify grand jurors,'' when that's ``reasonably necessary to protect the grand jury process or the security of the grand jurors.''

Without such a court order, the jury commissioner -- upon request -- would have to allow the public to inspect a list of grand jurors. But that list could contain only the jurors' names and juror numbers.

Formerly, state law required the court, ``upon request of any person,'' to ``immediately make available the names and addresses of all selected jurors.''

House Bill 1162 also provides an opportunity to shield the identities of members of state grand juries, if that's the decision of the chief judge in the district that empaneled the jury, or if it's requested by the attorney general's office.

District attorneys had contended that the new law was needed to protect grand jurors from interference or retaliation when they are investigating violent activities by gangs or other organized criminal groups. The measure also reportedly stemmed in part from media publicity about the Boulder grand jury investigating the JonBenet Ramsey slaying.

The grand-jurors' secrecy provisions are part of an overall bill that dealt with several ``procedural changes for the strengthening of criminal laws.''

Other parts of House Bill 1162 spell out circumstances in which a convicted offender is not eligible for bail while awaiting sentencing or while appealing that conviction. For example, no bail would be allowed for anyone convicted of murder, or a felony sexual assault involving the use of a deadly weapon, or a felony sexual assault committed against a child under the age of 15.

Another section of the bill gives judges the authority to order that the restitution a convicted criminal pays in drug cases must include what law enforcement authorities spent on making undercover drug purchases while gathering evidence in those cases.