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California Bans Grand Juries From Deciding Officer Involved Shootings

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  • Strongly Liberal Democrat
    Democrat
    Portland, OR
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    The most populated state in the nation has informed cops who kill an American citizen that they no longer have a rubber stamp in the Grand Jury process. SB 227, which was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown, bans the use of Grand Juries when it comes to officer involved shootings.

    Governor Brown also signed a law that allows any individual to record a police officer without fear of retribution. We have all seen the countless videos of cops arresting people for committing the crime of recording them, but cops in California will no longer be allowed to do that. If someone is recording them then they just have to put up with it. Maybe, and I stress maybe, they might start acting differently if they know they are on tape.

    I can't put into words how happy I am that the most populated state in the nation is taking the lead here. Cops shouldn't have a legal rubber stamp whenever they decide to murder an American citizen. I just hope that all of the other states take notice and follow their lead.

  • Independent
    Minnesota
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    Dear jaredstxn,

    I tend to be long-winded, so I'll try a different approach. I intend no disrespect whatever.

    Prosecutors have always had the Grand Jury available as a tool. It can gather testimony not available elsewhere. It can point out weaknesses in a prosecutor's case, and tell him the weaknesses are so profound that he can't prosecute on those charges.

    Now to your post. About half the states don't have Grand Juries in criminal matters, so obviously those states don't hear "death in police custody" cases via Grand Jury. States are shifting to preliminary hearings. If Grand Juries are really bad things, then California isn't leading, it's way behind the times.

    Let's assume we have an honest prosecutor looking to get an officer he believes killed a suspect during an arrest. This new law means the prosecutor can't get any of the evidence that a Grand Jury could get for him. Some of that information couldn't be obtained in other ways. He's in the same position he was the month before, but he's lost an investigative tool.

    Now let's assume it's a corrupt prosecutor who wants to get a policeman off. He used to be able to pitch a weak case to the Grand Jury and they would return "No true bill." We'll also have to assume that no honest prosecutor in the office catches him. Now, even with the change in the law, the prosecutor can say, "I don't think there's enough to convict. I will exercise my "Prosecutorial Discretion" and let him go. You get the same result as before the new law. And nobody can say that government prosecutors shouldn't be able to exercise their discretion.

    In short, I'd like somebody to explain to me why this law is a big deal. How is it supposed to stop misuse of the system, if that's the true worry here? Please explain it to me, because with the little I know now, it looks like a publicity stunt.

  • Liberal
    Independent
    Durham, NH
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    As a start, you could consider the fact that basically most so called Grand Juries are nothing more that support groups for the police and prosecutors.

    Once again, California leads the nation! Congratulations to Gov. brown for signing this landmark legislation to help protect us all rather than cover up for bad police work!

  • Strongly Liberal Democrat
    Democrat
    Portland, OR
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    Charles Wrote: Prosecutors have always had the Grand Jury available as a tool. It can gather testimony not available elsewhere. It can point out weaknesses in a prosecutor's case, and tell him the weaknesses are so profound that he can't prosecute on those charges.

    Well, that's the fantasy land supporters of the status quo want to live in, but that isn't even remotely close to what happens in the real world. In the real world a Grand Jury is a rubber stamp for whatever a prosecutor wants to do. If they want charges they will get them; if they don't want charges then they will make sure the Grand Jury votes that way.

    I assume you've heard the famous quote about Grand Juries: "[a] grand jury would 'indict a ham sandwich,' if that's what you wanted."

    Charles Wrote: Now to your post. About half the states don't have Grand Juries in criminal matters, so obviously those states don't hear "death in police custody" cases via Grand Jury. States are shifting to preliminary hearings. If Grand Juries are really bad things, then California isn't leading, it's way behind the times.

    Half of the fifty states total population combined is hardly more than the population of California. Changing the way they investigate police misconduct/brutality away from a secretive Grand Jury process to a more open and public process is a positive thing.

    Will you please provide the list of states that don't use the Grand Jury process in officer involved shootings? Everything I'm reading is saying that California is only the second state in the nation to outlaw the Grand Jury process in officer involved shootings and the first state to do so since Connecticut did back in the early 1980's.

    Charles Wrote: In short, I'd like somebody to explain to me why this law is a big deal. How is it supposed to stop misuse of the system, if that's the true worry here? Please explain it to me, because with the little I know now, it looks like a publicity stunt.

    It's a first, but important step. This isn't the only thing I want to change when it comes to investigating cops who kill an American citizen, but we have to start somewhere. This law at least begins to open up the process and pulls a veil back from what many people believe is a flawed and outright discriminatory process when it comes to investigating officers of the law.

  • Independent
    Minnesota
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    Dear pr,

    Thanks for your comments to a couple of posts I've made, including this one. But it seems there is a great understanding gap between us. It's probably my fault, but can we try to close that gap?

    As a start, you could consider the fact that basically most so called Grand Juries are nothing more that support groups for the police and prosecutors.

    If you mean that Grand Juries will almost always do what the Prosecutor wants them to, then I have to agree with you. Of course, you know that the only thing a criminal Grand Jury can do is gather evidence and decide whether or not there is sufficient evidence to have a trial. Nobody goes to jail based on a Grand Jury decision, but, as you imply, a corrupt prosecutor can use a Grand Jury to provide a reason to avoid a trial. But a corrupt prosecutor can accomplish the same thing by deciding not to prosecute, or by prosecuting based on minor charges. Eliminating the Grand Jury's authority to look at certain cases doesn't solve the problem. Or if it does, please explain to me how, because i can't see it. Why do you think that corrupt prosecutors are now unable to get policemen off if they want to?

    Once again, California leads the nation! Congratulations to Gov. brown for signing this landmark legislation to help protect us all rather than cover up for bad police work!

    Sorry? What do you mean? California has said that Grand Juries can't be used to look into deaths of people being arrested or in custody. Half of the states already have that. Leading the nation? Landmark legislation? I don't see it. Those states don't have any criminal Grand Juries at all, they use preliminary hearings in front of a judge.

    And as far as covering up for bad police work, it's a weak cover up at best. The people complaining that the police behaved wrongly will have a lawyer. Not most of them will, they will have a lawyer. If the Grand Jury is manipulated to let a policeman off, the lawyer will file a federal complaint.

    Besides, how big a problem is it? Has a policeman gotten off despite evidence beyond a reasonable doubt because a California prosecutor tampered with a Grand Jury? Probably, but I don't think there is a chance of even coming close to knowing how many. I don't know, you don't know, Governor Brown doesn't know. It's possible that it has never happened in California, but I don't have enough information on that and I would welcome any one with proof that there have been some cases of it. That's how I learn.

    Thanks,

    Charles

  • Strongly Liberal Democrat
    Democrat
    Portland, OR
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    Charles Wrote: Sorry? What do you mean? California has said that Grand Juries can't be used to look into deaths of people being arrested or in custody. Half of the states already have that. Leading the nation? Landmark legislation? I don't see it. Those states don't have any criminal Grand Juries at all, they use preliminary hearings in front of a judge.
    As I said in an earlier posting--California is only the second state in the nation to ban the Grand Jury system when it comes to investigating police. Where are you getting the information that says half of the states don't have any grand jury system at all?
  • Independent
    Minnesota
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    Dear jaredsxtn,

    I promise to take a course on "Writing to be Understood." I'm doing a terrible job of it and I suspect that's why my first thread met with such distrust and rejection. Oh well, enough of that. "Onward and Upward."

    You quoted me three times, then offered a discussion of each. Thank you, that helps me see the errors in my thoughts. Rather than requote them in their entirety, please allow me to refer to them as Quote 1, 2, or 3.

    In Quote 1 there is no real disagreement between us even if it seems there is. I made true, factual statements about the Grand Jury system. You pointed out that there are additional considerations. I agree with you completely. I accept the power of the Grand Jury as a prosecutorial tool. That doesn't make the things I said false. I like this, full agreement so far.

    In Quote 2, I am dealing with the contention that California's law eliminating the Grand Jury's authority to look into deaths of people being arrested or in custody is an landmark, nation leading event. I don't see why the population of the state makes a state law ground-breaking or not. How does the population of the state have any effect on the quality or history of the law? I just don't see it.

    MY THINKING WAS WRONG. I'M SORRY. THANKS FOR POINTING IT OUT.

    On the question of whether two states or half the states don't use grand juries, I didn't dig deeply enough. I owe you a huge favor for bringing the question to my attention. When I used the one-half figure I was relying on sources such as:

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_juries_in_t...

    en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_juries

    As well as a couple of other non-Wiki sources.

    I see now that there is some controversy over the question, and it is not certain how many states use Grand Juries in cases like this. So, I WILL WITHDRAW MY STATEMENT. Because I don't know what the truth is. Of course, whether or not California's law is groundbreaking gives us no information about it's goodness, value, or even Constitutionality (Maybe Due Process clause?)

    Quote 3

    I agree that the Grand Jury system is flawed. There are many talented legal scholars on both sides of the question of whether Grand Juries should be abolished. The opinion I see most often expressed is that, if it is handled in an honest manner it can provide benefits to the accused and the prosecutor. "Discriminatory" is an interesting question. I'm not sure precisely what is meant, and how damaging a charge that is.

    For example, an arrest is made without the accused's attorney present, the arresting officer is not required to listen to the accused's side of things, and the accused is not entitled to call witnesses. Yet few are calling for changes in the system of arrest, even though an arrest makes a near-permanent scar on an individual's record, and can cost him thousands in lost time, bail, and legal expenses. Even worse if it's a domestic abuse or sexual offense. Just the arrest itself will follow the accused through most if not all of his life.

    But if discrimination is a bad thing (and depending on how it's defined and the circumstances, I don't think it always is), certainly the California law is. If either the prosecutor or the defendant thinks a Grand Jury will help them, only active peace officers will be unable to use it. All other citizens have it as an option. I know this sounds strange, but consider the shooting of Michael Brown. Here, the Grand Jury was the very best possible route for the prosecutor to take. From an article in The New Republic:

    It is true that most grand juries choose to indict, but it also true that most grand juries only ever hear cases when a prosecutor is convinced that there ought to be a trial. That was not the case here. McCulloch was in a bind. As became clear in his remarks last night, he genuinely did not believe that Wilson had committed a crime. And a prosecutor is obligated to only “file charges that he or she believes adequately encompass the accused’s criminal activity” and to “refrain from prosecuting a charge that the prosecutor knows is not supported by probable cause.” In ordinary circumstances, McCulloch would have declined to file charges. But in this case, McCulloch could not simply do nothing—this would have annihilated trust in the criminal justice system. So he did the only thing he could do: He took himself out of the equation and presented all available evidence to the grand jury

    newrepublic.com/article/120408/ferguson...

    Without the Grand Jury option, McCulloch would have been obliged, both morally and legally, to not file any charges. But here, McCulloch said, in effect, "There is nothing to charge Wilson with, so here is every bit of evidence we have. I'm not going to encourage you to reach any kind of decision one way or the other. You citizens look at the evidence and tell me what you think should be done."

    That sounds pretty fair to me. And when the citizens returned their judgment they sparked riots and injuries which were reignited to mark the first anniversary of the shooting.

    In this situation, the California law would have only made things worse. In the California situation, the prosecutor would be required to not file any charges. People would argue (and riot) over whether that one individual made the right call. But it's the prosecutor's job to make calls. What good is it if the prosecutor is told, "You have every right to exercise prosecutorial discretion. That's an important part of your job and we wouldn't dream of interfering with it. But if you make a call we don't like you can expect lawsuits, violence directed against you and your family, and riots and destruction. But really, make any call you want, we won't try to influence you."

    Yes, there are problems in the Grand Jury system as well as every other component of the judiciary, but I don't think the California law is a good way to address them.

    I am really grateful for your comments, and I hope you can straighten out any more misunderstandings I have.

  • Strongly Liberal Democrat
    Democrat
    Portland, OR
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    Charles Wrote: Without the Grand Jury option, McCulloch would have been obliged, both morally and legally, to not file any charges. But here, McCulloch said, in effect, "There is nothing to charge Wilson with, so here is every bit of evidence we have. I'm not going to encourage you to reach any kind of decision one way or the other. You citizens look at the evidence and tell me what you think should be done."

    That sounds pretty fair to me. And when the citizens returned their judgment they sparked riots and injuries which were reignited to mark the first anniversary of the shooting.

    I hate to rehash the murder of Michael Brown, but this case exemplifies why I want to see a monumental change in our criminal justice system.

    A white DA (whose dad just happened to be killed by a black person), who was in bed with the nearly all white police force that policed a predominately black community, was tasked with investigating a white cop who murdered an unarmed black teenager for committing the crime of walking down a neighborhood street. (Only later did Darren Wilson claim that he stopped Michael Brown for stealing cigars.)

    Regardless--stealing a few cigars so you can roll up some blunts isn't a crime punishable by death.

    Do you see nothing wrong with allowing Bob McCulloch to take the case to a grand jury? There were multiple reports from grand jurors that said the DA clearly didn't want to press charges and that the super-majority white grand jury agreed. If he didn't want to file charges then I say have at it. He shouldn't be able to hide behind a Grand Jury process that millions of people see as a total farce.

    Hiding behind a Grand Jury decision that he manipulated because he's a coward isn't how our representative democracy is supposed to operate.

    Charles Wrote: In this situation, the California law would have only made things worse. In the California situation, the prosecutor would be required to not file any charges. People would argue (and riot) over whether that one individual made the right call. But it's the prosecutor's job to make calls. What good is it if the prosecutor is told, "You have every right to exercise prosecutorial discretion. That's an important part of your job and we wouldn't dream of interfering with it. But if you make a call we don't like you can expect lawsuits, violence directed against you and your family, and riots and destruction. But really, make any call you want, we won't try to influence you."

    Yes, there are problems in the Grand Jury system as well as every other component of the judiciary, but I don't think the California law is a good way to address them.

    I am really grateful for your comments, and I hope you can straighten out any more misunderstandings I have.

    This is true, but Californians can vote out District Attorney's who decide not to file charges against cops who murder unarmed citizens. California is different than Missouri in more ways than one. District Attorney's in California will now be wholly responsible to the people who elect them and if they get too close to the cops who murder unarmed citizens then they will be voted out. California District Attorney's represent the people of California; not the police union who wants to protect the 'blue wall of silence' at all costs.