The county attorney for Leavenworth County wants to try using a grand jury to decide if cases should go to trial.

The county attorney for Leavenworth County wants to try using a grand jury to decide if cases should go to trial.

County Attorney Todd Thompson briefed members of the Leavenworth County Commission about his proposal Tuesday.

Currently, preliminary hearings are used in Leavenworth County District Court to determine which cases should proceed to trial. Evidence is presented during a preliminary hearing, and a judge determines if the case should be bound over for trial.

Preliminary hearings would not be necessary in cases presented to a grand jury. Grand jurors would determine whether to return indictments against defendants.

“They have to find probable cause to go forward,” Thompson said.

Prosecutors would present cases to grand juries outside of the presence of defendants and defense attorneys.

Grand juries are used in the federal court system. But Thompson said Shawnee County is the only county where grand juries are regularly used in the state court system.

Thompson said he has had discussions with Shawnee County District Attorney Michael Kagay about how the grand jury process has been received in that county.

Thompson argues the use of the grand jury process can result in efficiencies.

He told county commissioners that witnesses sometimes show up for a preliminary hearing after being subpoenaed only to find out the hearing is being continued until another date.

He said witness fees still have to be paid even when the hearing is continued.

“That's not just one witness,” he said. “That's multiple witnesses.”

But Thompson said there will be a cost associated with having a grand jury.

He said the grand jury process may save time.

He said a judge and attorneys may be able to get through as many as six preliminary hearings in an afternoon.

He said between 20 and 30 cases can be presented to a grand jury in one morning.

Thompson said his office plans to have a grand jury meet once a month. Each grand jury would be empaneled for a period of six months.

He said grand jurors would be chosen from Leavenworth County and go through a similar selection process as trial jurors.

Thompson said he wants to try the grand jury process for six months.

“If we find it's successful, we'll continue with it,” he said.

Even with a grand jury in place, Thompson said there will be some cases that will utilize a preliminary hearing instead of a grand jury indictment.

The County Attorney's Office has not yet made a decision regarding charges related to an officer-involved shooting that occurred last year in Leavenworth.

The July 11 shooting resulted in the death of Antonio Garcia Jr. Matthew Harrington, the officer who was involved, was fired from the Leavenworth Police Department for reportedly violating policy.

Thompson said he cannot comment about whether a grand jury will review the case because an investigation is ongoing.

The County Commission was required to approve of Thompson's proposal for initiating the grand jury process. But Commission Chairman Louis Klemp said he believes it is a good idea. Klemp said he appreciated Thompson coming to the commission with the idea.

Commissioner Bob Holland said he liked the potential money savings aspect of the proposal.

“Saving money is a good idea,” he said.

The third county commissioner, Doug Smith, was absent Tuesday.

Thompson said he has discussed the proposals with officials from Leavenworth County District Court.

“I do have their support in going forward with this process,” he said.

Chief Judge David King and Court Administrator Steve Crossland were on hand Tuesday for Thompson's presentation to the County Commission.

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