Increase penalties on grand jury disclosures

Many West Virginians probably are under the impression a grand juror who tips off criminals so they can evade arrest is in deep, deep trouble. Not really. Existing law allows judges to impose only 10-day jail sentences. Some unscrupulous grand jurors may consider that a small price to pay in exchange for the thousands of dollars a drug dealer may be willing to pay for the information.

Leaks by grand jurors have allowed at least three people indicted on drug charges in Mingo County to escape before they could be arrested, legislators have been told. All three left the state.

A bill approved by the Legislature earlier this year would give judges more power to deter such behavior by grand jurors. The measure authorizes 30-day jail sentences and fines of as much as $1,000 for grand jurors who leak information about indictments.

House of Delegates members had no problem with the bill. They approved it by a 98-0 vote.

But it was blocked for a time in the state Senate. There, a concern about grand jurors talking to their spouses was raised.

That is nonsense for any number of reasons, which senators eventually realized. Upon reconsideration, they, too, approved the bill and sent it to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.

The bill is very specific: It increases the penalty for anyone, whether a juror or a court official or employee, who discloses matters discussed before a grand jury.

Tomblin should sign the bill into law – and judges made aware of intentional breaches meant to aid and abet criminals should not hesitate to use it.