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Two animal rights activists were subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury today, but they didn't go into the proceedings alone. Outside, there was a large group of silent protesters with their mouths duct-taped shut.
Jordan Halliday was one of those activists called into court. He said he was clueless about why he was being subpoenaed "They're on a fishing expedition. That's historically what grand juries are used for," he said.
However, Halliday's father tells KSL News it's likely in regard to the release of 300 minks from a South Jordan farm back in August of 2008. A month later, more than 6,000 were released from a Kaysville farm.
The Animal Liberation Front claimed responsibility for the raid, and Halliday says he's not part of the movement.
What bothers the protesters isn't the investigation so much as the grand jury. They argue that testifying before a grand jury amounts to a witch hunt.
One of the few protesters without duct-tape on his mouth was Jeremy Beckham. He describes the grand jury as a constitutional loophole. "They don't have the right to an attorney present with them in the courtroom, they don't have even the 5th-Amendment protection to remain silent, and the proceedings are held in secret," Beckman said.
Grand juries are typically convened to help determine whether there is enough evidence in a criminal investigation to pursue charges. Part of the reason that grand juries aren't subject to the same rules and provisions as other aspects of the legal system is that they do not result in a finding of guilt--merely that finding of enough evidence to proceed to trial or to file formal charges.
University of Utah Associate Law Professor Daniel Medwed says grand jury witnesses may not refuse to testify, and their attorneys are not allowed in the courtroom. "The idea is you want the proceedings to be in secret so the jurors can vote their conscious without political pressure and pressure from their neighbors," he said.
Medwed says grand juries almost always indict, since only the prosecution presents its case. The jury doesn't hear from the defense.
Melodie Rydalch, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, declined to talk about the group's allegations or the case.