In 2011, Judge Monte Watkins appointed Eugene Grayer to lead the grand jury despite a notification earlier in the year that Grayer was a convicted felon. Grayer had records stemming from 1977 for theft allegations, making him ineligible for jury duty. Unfortunately, he never underwent a criminal background check according to District Attorney Torry Johnson.
Grayer’s name was flagged by the DA’s office after he was denied a handgun permit. Originally, Grayer had checked a box stating he had never been convicted, but the Department of Safety performed a background check and noted the earlier conviction. The letter of denial was also sent to the DA’s office, following standard policy. Despite the notification the DA received, Grayer went on to oversee the Grand Jury a year later, and his conviction was brought to light by a clerk handling handgun permit denials.
In the state of Tennessee, a felon is ineligible to serve on a jury. Grayer’s involvement as a felon could lead to a court order requiring prosecutors to re-examine all 900 cases during Grayer’s three-month term as foreman; 800 of which were resolved ending mostly in guilty pleas. An additional 90 are pending. The DA’s office is not providing details on the cases that will be challenged, but it’s likely the more serious cases will likely be contested for having an “incompetent grand juror.” One public defender has stated she will challenge one of the indictments based on this new information. There’s an estimated two-dozen cases that could potentially face re-trial. The best-case scenario for the DA is if the court decides to reopen cases in which the defendant can prove Grayer’s experience prejudiced the prosecution. The likelihood of reversing a criminal conviction is small though, and the situation could cost the state large amounts of money and time to put these cases in front of a new grand jury. While regrettable, Johnson believes that the failure to perform a background check on Grayer does not mean that all the cases need to be redone and put back into the system.
This is the first time a juror has been found to have a criminal conviction. It is a matter of standard policy for the district attorney to perform background checks on all jurors. The jury foreman is chosen by a judge and not subject to this routine check. Judge Watkins, upon hearing of Grayer’s conviction was surprised, but declined to talk about the issue. Johnson notes, “There is obviously, in this one instance, something that will need to be done differently in the future.” A DA spokeswoman said that the office would begin background checks on all jury foremen going forward.
Grayer was charged with grand larceny, possession of a firearm without a serial number, and theft from an interstate shipment. He attempted to steal $20,000 worth of jewelry, clothing, and electronics from UPS, his place of employment at the time. Grayer pleaded guilty to attempt to commit a felony – in itself a felony – and served a reduced sentence of five years.
Anytime organizations appoint people to make crucial decisions that affect the lives of others, it’s a good idea to have those people thoroughly vetted through reputable screening agencies like backgroundchecks.com. By doing this, companies can have access to over 400 million criminal records with the US OneSEARCh tool, which spans records nationwide. They can even check crimes under alternate names with the US AliasSEARCH tool, to make sure past crimes were not hidden because of a name change. This can at least do a little to make organizations feel more secure about the people making important decisions.
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Author: Michael Klazema