If you go
WHAT: Informational meeting, election for "the reinstatement of a Dorchester County Common Law Grand Jury" and registration for the jury.
WHEN: 6 p.m. March 4.
WHERE: Dorchester County Public Library, 76 Trolley Road, Summerville.
MORE INFORMATION: nationallibertyalliance.org.
SUMMERVILLE - Common-law grand juries aren't posses, organizers insist, but their aim is to seize control back from the government by having "We The People" indict public officials.
But "it sounds like vigilante justice under another name," said Miller Shealy, College of Charleston law professor and a former federal prosecutor.
Lorilei Perry, a Summerville stay-at-home mom, has joined a small but fervent cadre of organizers trying to establish common-law grand juries in counties around the country, under the auspices of the National Liberty Association. The juries would be made up of volunteer groups of citizens who hear cases on their own, then press local prosecutors for indictments.
The idea might be "fanciful," as Shealy said, but the association is emerging largely unnoticed by legal authorities, among a growing number of conservative coalitions formed to battle for civil rights and liberties against a government members perceive to be intrusive.
Perry plans a meeting and a show of hands in March that the association said qualifies as an election to "reinstate" the jury. The jury could then decide whether to indict officials for violating their oaths of office that require them to abide by the U.S. Constitution.
"These days, when the courts violate the Constitution, we have nowhere else to go. We have already lost too much of our own power. It's scary that the government has more power than the people," Perry said.
There are just a few problems with the idea.
"They have no legal basis to do that. Citizens taking the law into their own hands squarely violates the Constitution," Shealy said.
And, any "indictments" returned by the jury still have to go to established law enforcement agencies and courts to be prosecuted. These officials are keeping their distance.
In Pickens County, where state organizer Jim McDonald has established a common-law grand jury, the courts and law enforcement are keeping a distance. A spokeswoman for the office of 13th Circuit Solicitor Walter Wilkins and a spokesman for the S.C. Attorney General each said their offices have not been approached about the jury.
Pickens County Sheriff Rick Clark said McDonald is a friend, but "we differ on the scope (of the jury)." Clark isn't certain how such a jury would augment or supplant the grand jury system in place now, he said. If approached to serve an indictment, Clark said he would consult with the solicitor.
McDonald said Thursday that organizers are working in 13 counties, including Berkeley and Georgetown in the Lowcountry, but he would not provide a contact for those organizers.
"They're going to oppose this," McDonald said about the existing law enforcement and court system. "We know that, because they have their own little playhouse and they don't want anyone to tear it down."
The association has established 128 county common-law grand juries nationally, McDonald said.
Perry's concern was raised when she attended the South Carolina Tea Party Coalition Convention in Myrtle Beach in January and stopped at the association booth.
Association organizers have seized on the Declaration of Independence concept that government power is derived by "consent of the governed," and a majority opinion in the 2008 U.S. vs. Williams decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that said, in part, grand juries belong to the people. Members say those documents and others give them legal standing.
"A grand jury has its roots in common law," Shealy said. But a group of citizens taking the law into their own hands could put them in serious jeopardy of defamation, libel, civil and criminal liability. "It's a serious matter."
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