What’s the latest in the Idaho College Murders? Well, a lot has happened since the four students were fatally attacked last fall.
Getting Caught Up
Last year, four college students in Idaho were brutally murdered, seemingly at random. Initially, it appeared as though police would never catch the perpetrator but, to everyone’s surprise, 28-year-old Bryan Kohberger was arrested and charged with the murder of the four students. Currently, Bryan Kohberger has not been convicted of the crimes, has pled not guilty, and therefore enjoys the presumption of innocence. He has recently waived his right to a speedy trial, therefore the trial that was supposed to begin on October 2nd has been postponed. Recently, Bryan Kohberger appeared in court where a judge ruled on two issues: will the grand jury indictment be thrown out, and will cameras be allowed in the courtroom?
What Is a Grand Jury Indictment?
After police are done investigating a crime, they present their evidence to a prosecutor who will determine whether or not there’s enough evidence to file charges against the police’s suspect. Assuming that there’s enough evidence, the prosecutor file charges, and a judge will sign an arrest warrant, giving the police the ability to take the suspect into custody. But there’s another way that police could get an arrest warrant: a grand jury indictment. Here, a jury of the suspect’s peers review the evidence that the police have gathered and determine whether or not there’s enough evidence to suggest the alleged perpetrator committed the crime in question. If there is, the jury will hand down an indictment. The key difference between being charged and being indicted is that when a suspect is indicted, it’s because a jury of peers has decided that there’s enough evidence against the perpetrator to believe s/he committed the crime.
Why Does the Defense Want It Thrown Out?
In short, throwing out the indictment would be a moral victory for the defense. The defense claims that the jury was not properly instructed on the standard of proof. In short, the defense argued that the grand jury should have been instructed that in order to hand down an indictment, they needed to be sure beyond a reasonable doubt that Bryan Kohberger committed this crime. Because no such instructions were given, Bryan Kohberger’s defense argued that the indictment ought to have been thrown out. Bryan Kohberger’s attorneys have also argued that the indictment ought to be dismissed due to a biased grand jury and prosecutorial misconduct. This part of the hearing was not made public because the information relating to grand jury hearings needs to remain confidential in order to protect the integrity of the trial. Even if the defense doesn’t feel like they have a strong chance of winning this argument, they almost always have to make it to preserve the argument in case an appeal is filed by Mr. Kohberger, assuming he gets convicted. If they don’t make that argument, in most jurisdictions a defendant is considered to have “waived” his right to make that argument later.
What Did the Judge Say?
The judge denied the defense’s motion to dismiss the indictment based upon failure to properly instruct the grand jury regarding the standard of proof necessary to hand down an indictment. Here the judge ruled that there was already a precedent—meaning people in Idaho have been indicted based upon probable cause—therefore he did not find that the failure to instruct the grand jury using the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt was enough to throw out the indictment. The defense also filed a motion to dismiss the indictment based upon prosecutorial misconduct, and jury bias. The judge said that he would issue a decision at a later date.
Will There Be Cameras?
So far, yes, there will be cameras allowed in the courtroom, but the judge said there will be restrictions placed on what will be filmed. He has not mentioned what exactly those restrictions will be, but it may end up that no media cameras will be allowed in the court room, and only one stationary camera will be recording the trial—assuming that it will be televised. However, it should be noted that the public does not have a constitutional right to view court proceedings on television. A lot of people believe that the trial needs to be publicly televised in order to ensure that the process is done by the book. However, this is not necessary as transcripts of court proceedings are a matter of public record and will be available after the trial is over, even if cameras are banned in the courtroom. Generally, cameras are banned in order to prevent a jury from becoming tainted, and to protect victims and witnesses.
When Will the Trial Be?
So far, we don’t know when the trial will be, and speculating wouldn’t be responsible either. There are two main issues here: first, Bryan Kohberger’s defense team needs to explain why his DNA was found on the knife sheath in the home where the victims were murdered. This is an issue due to the CSI Effect—where juries are more likely to find a defendant guilty when there’s forensic evidence such as DNA recovered at a scene. This could also create an issue for the prosecution. Reports are that the recoverable DNA was so small, that the Idaho State crime lab couldn’t process the DNA to be sure whose it was. Instead they sent the knife sheath to the FBI for help in processing it. All of these transfers of the evidence, could create a window for the defense to create doubt in the jury’s minds that the knife sheath wasn’t tampered with in some way to insert Bryan Kohberger’s DNA. Second, the defense team will need time to establish a defense for Bryan Kohberger—one that’s better than the one they’ve currently got, which is that he could not have committed the crime because he was out driving around alone when the crime was committed. The trial will likely be a long time away since there’s a lot of work the defense will need to do to plant reasonable doubt in the minds of jurors.