David Augenbraun, a Philadelphia assistant district attorney who has been supervising the office's investigating grand juries for a dozen years, said that indicting grand juries at the federal level are different because those indicting grand juries are taking place pre-arrest and that is why target letters are issued.
Indicting grand juries in Philadelphia are going to be typically used post-arrest and those criminal cases will be diverted from the normal preliminary hearing process into the indicting grand jury if there is evidence of witness intimidation, Augenbraun said.
Witnesses are permitted to bring counsel with them to an investigating grand jury and the attorney can be in the room with them, unlike federal grand juries or grand juries in other states, Augenbraun said. Defendants or their counsel would not be present for indicting grand juries, he said.
While state investigating grand juries are pre-arrest, target letters, for one thing, are not required under the rules and, for another thing, it is not yet clearly defined who is the target in those sorts of grand juries because the investigations are ongoing, Augenbraun said.
Witnesses receive an advice-of-rights form, including that they can consult an attorney, which is important because while an investigation is developing it's not always clear-cut that a person coming into the investigating grand jury does not have criminal exposure, Augenbraun said.
While some argue that prosecutors have too much power in grand juries, the grand juries are under the supervision of a judge, "so you have a neutral party who is supervising it and reviewing what's going on there. It's not like an out-of-control body," Augenbraun said.
Philadelphia criminal defense attorney Gregory J. Pagano said his concern with the expansion of grand juries in Pennsylvania is whether judicial supervision will be adequate to protect defendants and other witnesses.
Pagano formerly represented Eileen O'Neill, who is facing a 2013 trial on criminal charges including theft by deception, conspiracy and perjury. A co-defendant in her case faces criminal charges in the alleged murders of an abortion patient and of several infants who allegedly had been born alive.
Pagano was successful in a motion to have O'Neill's grand jury testimony suppressed.
According to court papers, O'Neill was sworn in as a witness before the investigating grand jury by former Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Renée Cardwell Hughes on August 20, 2010.