The real problem with this amendment is length so much like I did with the first amendment I am going to take it piece by piece. The first part of this amendment reads thus:
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger;
The first part of this amendment basically deals with a simple right that you cannot be held for a capital or other serious crime without the presentment or indictment of a grand jury. The issue is you cannot be formally accused of a capital crime or serious crime unless of jury of your peers looks at the evidence and make the accusation. This was a reaction to the system the founding fathers had torn themselves of where a high-ranking individual could simply indict a person without evidence or anyone else backing them up. In order to prevent this and provide a more balanced system of justice a grand jury had to rule there was enough evidence for a charge to be made.
This right is definitely a step up in many respects. It is definitely a right that protects against individual vendetta as well as mob justice. In order to even be charge you have to be charged by a jury of people not just charged out of hand. This applies only to capital crimes and serious crimes. In the case of smaller crimes this process does not necessarily follow. There also is one exception and that is time of war or public danger. The grand jury process in such cases can be suspended.
In history, this has been a fuzzy dividing line. During the Civil War, military tribunals often tried civilian and soldier alike but after the war several laws were passed that forbid military tribunals to try civilians. The clause for the sake of war or public danger could still be invoked but many laws have been passed and case law established that define this line even further.
Of course recent grand jury decisions have acquitted Officer Wilson and the officer that many feel was responsible for Garner’s death and this has met with some controversy. However this has demonstrated the value of the grand jury principle in my mind. In our system, the grand jury looks at the evidence, listens to the testimony and has to have probable cause to make an accusation. The trial of guilt or innocence is also a separate thing so that one jury or judge is never judge jury and executioner. In both cases, for whatever reasons the grand jury’s did not feel their was enough evidence to even bring the officers in question to trial or accuse them of a crime. If this system had not been in place, both officers may have faced mob justice which is never a good thing.
The idea is that it should be devilishly hard to accuse and to convict someone so that way it would be clear that when someone is accused and convicted the evidence was beyond reasonable doubt and justice truly served.
This is the start of the process of accusing someone of a crime. It takes a group of people believe that there is enough evidence for you to be charged and brought before a jury. Then the accused has another set of rights kick in that are spelled out in the second part of this amendment.