CSAO: Judiciary Committee - March 15, 2017 - H.B. No. 7257




March 15, 2017

The Division of Criminal Justice respectfully recommends and requests the Committee’s JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT for H.B. No. 7257, An Act Concerning Grand Jury Reform. This bill would preserve important protections that currently exist, expand other protections, and provide a more efficient means to empanel a grand jury to assist in the investigation of serious crimes.

Our current grand jury statute requires law enforcement to exhaust all other investigative techniques before seeking the empanelment of a grand jury, or to explain in detail why such investigative avenues are unavailing. This requirement imposes costly delays in the State’s ability to obtain testimony and other evidence that may be critical to solving a serious financial crime or a violent felony.

In the federal criminal justice system, as in most states, prosecutors work with sitting grand juries on a daily basis to investigate allegations of criminal activity. Through the grand jury, subpoenas may issue in support of that investigative authority. Subpoenas for documents play a critical role in allowing investigators and prosecutors to quickly obtain evidence that may confirm or dispel suspicions of criminality. Federal authorities, such as United States Attorneys and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), as well as state and county law enforcement agencies make invaluable use of the document subpoena in these investigations. Indeed, the common query from investigators outside Connecticut upon learning that our prosecutors do not have subpoena authority is: "how can you possibly investigate economic crime?" The answer is: "slowly and not well."

H.B. No. 7257, by allowing a more expeditious process to empanel a grand jury, would enable Connecticut’s prosecutors to request subpoena authority from the grand juror and obtain evidence of crimes while recollections are still fresh and before documents and other tangible evidence are destroyed.

In the absence of seeking the empanelment of an investigatory grand jury, pursuant to C.G.S. § 54-47b et seq., Connecticut prosecutors can obtain documents only through consent or by obtaining a search warrant. While the search warrant can be an effective tool for obtaining evidence, it requires a showing of probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed before the warrant may issue. More important, without the authority of the grand jury the state cannot gain the needed assistance of witnesses.

Although economic crime takes many forms, investment scams provide a ready example of the limitations that our current laws place on the ability to protect citizens from economic predators. Law enforcement often learns of a potentially fraudulent investment scheme when a victim complains that he or she has entrusted monies to a third party for subsequent investment, but the promised profits never arrive. The victim can supply his or her own records, but other documents that would provide evidence of the fraud, such as checks, money transfers, deposits, stock certificates, invoices, etc. showing where, how, and if, the "investor" invested the victim’s money are not available to him. While such complaints raise reasonable suspicion, they do not establish probable cause that the "investor" either defrauded the victim in obtaining the funds or put the monies to an unlawful use. The possibility that the investment has simply not succeeded in the way that the "investor" promised stands as an impediment to a determination of probable cause. The physical evidence that might establish probable cause to believe that a fraud has been committed are the very documents that prosecutors in other jurisdictions can obtain through can obtain through grand jury subpoenas, but that remain unavailable to Connecticut’s State’s Attorneys.

The FBI estimates that white collar crime costs United States businesses several billion dollars per year. The financial loss to individuals is undoubtedly as great and the emotional toll that such persons suffer, particularly when retirement funds are involved, is even greater. That pain is compounded when victims turn to law enforcement for help only to learn that our hands are tied by an inability to obtain the very documents that might prove the crime and assist in recovering the victim’s losses.

Connecticut’s prosecutors are similarly hampered in their ability to investigate corruption. Having received credible information of possible corrupt activities on the part of a state or municipal official, prosecutors again must apply for search warrants to obtain documents that might prove – or disprove – the allegation. The search warrant must detail the investigation and set forth probable cause to believe that a particular official has acted corruptly. While search warrants may be sealed for some period of time, they usually become public at some point, thereby risking that an ongoing investigation may be compromised or – worse – that a person who may be cleared by subsequent investigation is defamed. A streamlined grand jury empanelment would allow prosecutors to obtain non-privileged documents quietly and without undue risk to reputations or investigative integrity.

Any expansion of law enforcement authority raises understandable concerns about civil liberties and privacy. But the limited authority being sought by this statute, when weighed against the significant impediment that currently exists in the Division of Criminal Justice’s ability to investigate economic crime and corruption, clearly argues in favor of passing H.B. No. 7257. It is time that the State of Connecticut allows its criminal investigators the bare minimum authority that exists in other jurisdictions to protect our citizens and to investigate complex crimes in an efficient manner.

In conclusion, the Division respectfully recommends the Committee’s JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT for H.B. No. 7257. We thank the Committee for affording this opportunity to provide input on this matter and would be happy to provide any additional information the Committee might require or to answer any questions that you might have.

Content Last Modified on 3/15/2017 9:18:18 AM