Calif. Limits Grand Juries|in Police Violence Cases

     SACRAMENTO (CN) – Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday signed into a law a bill that prohibits empanelling of a grand jury in most cases in which police officers are accused of using deadly force.
     Brown also signed into law a bill affirming the right of citizens to record the actions of police officers, by videotape or other means.
     Approval of the grand jury bill, Senate Bill 227 , came a year after the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., triggered protests across the country. A grand jury in that case declined to file charges against Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson.
     “The use of the criminal grand jury process, and the refusal to indict as occurred in Ferguson and other communities of color, has fostered an atmosphere of suspicion that threatens to compromise our justice system,” said state Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, who wrote the bill.
     Mitchell said the bill gained wide-ranging support from activists and public interest groups that see it as a “necessary step” to restore “accountability and transparency to a system of justice that operates almost entirely outside any kind of meaningful oversight.”
     The legislation was opposed by law enforcement groups, including the California District Attorneys Association.
     The CDAA’s Legislation Director Sean Hoffman said the law won’t have a major impact on how prosecutors pursue cases of deadly police force, but it does limit their ability to compel witnesses to testify in private proceedings through grand jury investigations.
     “It’s not going to be a huge sea change in how we handle these, but it does take away a tool that in some cases can help provide fuller fact finding,” Hoffman said.
     In an overwhelming majority of officer-involved shootings, prosecutors decide whether to pursue criminal charges without taking the grand jury route, Hoffman said. He rejected arguments that the law will improve transparency.
     “The grand jury is a way to present the evidence to members of the community to decide if there’s enough evidence to proceed to trial,” Hoffman said. “Now that decision (will be) made in a vacuum.”
     The bill was supported by the California Chapter of the NAACP, the California Alliance of Boys and Men of Color and the Mexican American Legal Defense, among others.
     “I applaud Governor Brown for doing the right thing and sending a message to all Californians that his administration wants our criminal justice system to be fair, transparent and accountable,” Northern California’s first African American female judge LaDoris Hazzard Cordell said in a statement.
     Also Tuesday, Brown signed into law Senate Bill 411 , affirming the right of citizens to record the actions of police officers in public, or in any place where the person recording has a right to be.

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