California has become the first state to ban the use of grand juries to determine if police officers should be charged criminally after killing someone in the line of duty.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill on Tuesday, and the ban will go into effect next year.
This ban comes on the heels of public outcry after grand juries in high profile cases across the nation refused to indict the officers responsible. Missouri, New York, and Ohio all saw protests and demands for transparency after communities felt that justice was not served when no one was held accountable for the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Tamir Rice, and a long list of others who died at the hands of law enforcement.
LaDoris Cordell, retired judge and former San Jose independent police auditor, was the first African-American judge to be appointed in Northern California and was a strong supporter of the legislation:
What the governor’s decision says is, he gets it — the people don’t want secrecy when it comes to officer-involved shootings. We’re not trying to get more officers indicted. We’re saying, ‘Whatever you decide, do it in the open.’
The ban on grand juries will put the decision of whether or not an officer should be indicted squarely in the hands of district attorneys, which is the way things are already done in several areas throughout California, including Santa Clara and Los Angeles counties.
Those who support Senate Bill 227, including state Sen Holly Mitchell, who authored the legislation, say the ban is vital to restoring people’s faith in the criminal justice system. According to supporters, grand juries are simply a way for district attorneys to avoid prosecuting the cops they work so closely with, without having to directly take responsibility for the decision themselves.
Mitchell says that the ban is “an important first step in ongoing efforts to build public trust, transparency, and accountability in an atmosphere of suspicion that compromises our justice system.”
During grand jury proceedings, there are no judges or defense attorneys and if there is no indictment, the transcripts are kept secret. However, once the ban takes effect next year, district attorneys will decide whether to file criminal charges against officers themselves based on the evidence. A preliminary hearing will then take place, where prosecutors and defense attorneys will both present their arguments to a judge, who will decide whether or not the case goes to trial. Voters will then be able to hold district attorneys accountable.
Supporters of the legislation include the ACLU, the California chapter of the NAACP, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Support for the bill was split along party lines, with four moderate democrats joining conservatives in their opposition.
Featured image via White Collar Wire