CHICAGO (AP) — The term of a federal grand jury that heard evidence for more than a year on possible spending violations by former U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock has expired, though legal experts said that doesn't mean the Illinois Republican is off the legal hook.
Schock, a onetime rising GOP star from Peoria, came under intense scrutiny in early 2015 for his spending, including the redecoration of his office in the style of TV's "Downton Abbey." He resigned under pressure in March 2015, and grand jury subpoenas for his records were issued.
U.S. court districts typically have at least one grand jury impaneled at any one time, with 23 members hearing evidence on multiple cases simultaneously. Prosecutors at some point ask them to vote on whether to indict a subject. But if the term of one grand jury expires before a vote, a new one can take up the same case.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Springfield, Sharon Paul, confirmed Wednesday that the two-year term of the grand jury concluded in June. Another has already been impaneled, she said. The next scheduled session for the newer panel is Aug. 2, when it could potentially hear evidence in Schock's case.
Legal experts cautioned about reading too much into the expiration of the grand jury.
Phil Turner, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Chicago, said it's not exceptional for federal prosecutors to carry an investigation over from one grand jury to another. That the initial grand jury has wrapped up says "absolutely nothing" about the status of the Schock investigation, he said.
Another grand jury would not have to start from scratch. Turner said prosecutors wouldn't have to recall witnesses and could simply read transcripts of testimony presented to the initial grand jury.
Alan Tuerkheimer, a Chicago-based lawyer and jury consultant, said it's possible that the lack of any announced indictment to date is telling.
"It's a long time to come with no charges," he said. "It could mean there was a failure here ... that (prosecutors) were wrong in their assessment of the case."
He added that the standard of evidence to secure an indictment before a grand jury is far lower than the proof needed to win a conviction at trial. And only a majority of grand jury panelist must vote to bring an indictment, rather than the unanimity trial jurors must reach to convict.
But Tuerkheimer and other legal observers said the dismissal of the panel may simply mean prosecutors wanted time to compile additional evidence.
Paul declined to speak specifically about any one investigation. But she also said it wasn't unheard of for a case to transfer from one grand jury to another.
"This happens routinely," she said.
Schock's legal team didn't comment on what the discharge of one set of grand jury panelists might mean. A one-sentence statement from lead attorney George Terwilliger's office said, "No aspect of this matter involves anything criminal."