MINGO COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A delegate from Mingo County has introduced a bill to the West Virginia Legislature to stiffen penalties on grand jurors who leak information.
Delegate Justin Marcum introduced HB 2498 to the House on February 15.
This bill asks for stiffer penalties for members of a grand jury who warn suspected criminals that they are going to be or have been indicted.
Under current law, a person can only be cited for contempt of court . The maximum penalty is 10 days in jail.
In the proposed measure, the crime would be a misdemeanor with the juror facing up to 30 days in jail and/or a $1000 fine if convicted.
This all comes on the heels of a grand juror in Mingo County being held in contempt of court, accused of warning a woman that she was indicted on drug charges.
Leanna Richardson, 21, of Mingo County, was jailed Tuesday, for a 10-day sentence on the charge.
The Mingo County Prosecutor's Office tells WSAZ.com that up to four people found out about their indictments after last month's session, when Richardson was on the grand jury.
They said prior to this incident they had not dealt with this crime and contempt of court was the only crime Richardson could be charged with, for breaking the secrecy of the grand jury.
According to court documents, Leanna Richardson, 21, of Mingo County, was found in contempt of court for "improper disclosures and violations of secrecy of the Grand Jury."
Mingo County Prosecutor Michael Sparks tells WSAZ.com that up to four people have admitted they knew in advance they had been or were going to be indicted by the grand jury.
"We hope to when we go out to arrest these individuals, we may discover and get drugs off the street that way because we catch them by surprise," Sparks said.
Sparks says that Dawn Marcum, who was indicted last month on drug and conspiracy charges, told investigators that Richardson informed her she was on the list.
Sparks also tells WSAZ.com that Emery Marcum and Marvin Vance told investigators that they also knew they were being indicted on drug charges. The two did not say how they learned the information.
The prosecutor says Emery Marcum fled the area after learning he faced charges. He has since turned himself in.
Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum says the leaked information could have jeopardized their ability to collect evidence and could have put deputies at risk.
"Letting this kind of stuff out early put a lot of people's lives in danger," Crum said. "We're hoping this never happens again."
"Those people could have found out we were coming and actually set booby traps, per se, and been waiting on us when we got there," Dave Rockel, the Drug Task Force Commander for the sheriff’s department, said.
According to Sparks, Richardson claims she was approached by someone on the list asking if they were facing charges. He says Richardson then failed to tell the judge about the incident, which violated a court directive.
Richardson was summonsed to court on Tuesday for the contempt hearing. After showing up late, she was sentenced to 10 days in jail, the maximum penalty on a contempt charge.
The Mingo County Sheriff's Office is still questioning Richardson and the others about the incident.
Sparks says this is the first time they have had a situation like this, and his office believes there needs to be stiffer penalties for such incidents in the future.
His office is now working with West Virginia House of Delegates member Justin Marcum to get a new statute passed with stiffer penalties.
Marcum introduced a bill Monday holding grand jurors criminally liable for tipping fugitives of a sealed indictment.
"We believe that would be a very positive enterprise that he could take up, which is to criminalize this behavior," Sparks said, "because the multitude of consequences and problems that can result from violating the secrecy provisions of grand jury proceedings, certainly there should be a criminal penalty."