State’s Top Judge Calls For Grand Jury Transparency (Updated)
The state’s top judge on Tuesday called for a package of reforms to the legal system’s grand jury process, including transparency in cases involving deaths of civilians caused by police officers.
In addition to the transparency measures, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman called for judges to oversee grand jury proceedings involving cases in which law enforcement has killed an unarmed civilian, not district attorneys.
More broadly, the push for grand jury reform began last year, after a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict a New York City police officer in the choke hold death of an unarmed black man, Eric Garner.
The case, along with a police shooting in Missouri of teenager Michael Brown that led to no charges of a local police officer there, led to a series of protests in cities around the country and a debate over police tactics as well as calls to reform the criminal justice system.
Lippman, in his address inside the state Court of Appeals courtroom before a collection of judges and legal professionals, called the current grand jury process in New York “antiquated.”
The measure Lippman is introducing would apply to cases in which a grand jury has declined to issue charges or return no bill. Testimony of experts and public officials would be made public, while the names of civilian witnesses could be redacted from the record.
Grand jury information could be released in cases in which there is “significant public interest” and that it’s generally known a proceeding is underway.
“The strict secrecy of grand jury proceedings – originating in medieval England and mandated in New York by statute – can be detrimental to access to justice and public debate over issues of compelling public interest,” Lippman said in his annual address, known as the State of the Judiciary.
Lippman said there are many reasons why a grand jury’s proceedings should be kept confidential including preventing a subject from fleeing prosecution and encourage witnesses who are reluctant to talk.
“While these are all laudable reasons for secrecy, they do not justify the breadth of the current law that bans virtually all disclosure, and although nominally allowing a court to grant disclosure, provides no guidance as to when to do so,” Lippman said.
The bill would still have to pass the state Legislature, where Senate Republicans have shown little willingness to take up legislation that would change how grand jury proceedings are conducted.
Democrats in the Senate back the use of body cameras for police, as well as the creation of an Office of Special Investigation to oversee grand jury cases involving law enforcement.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has called for a special prosecutor to be appointed in cases of policy brutality while legislation in Albany is considered.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, meanwhile, has said he would appoint a special monitor in cases in which police officers are not indicted in grand jury cases.
Updated: Schneiderman in a statement called Lippman’s proposals “thoughtful” and said they should further the debate over criminal justice reforms.
“Over the last few months, we have seen an emerging consensus on the need for essential reforms in our criminal justice system and grand jury process to restore public trust and confidence. As he has done so many times throughout his tenure, Chief Justice Lippman today outlined a thoughtful set of proposals that will further our state’s debate. I welcome his remarks, and look forward to working with the Chief Justice, the Governor, and Legislature to pass meaningful reform during this legislative session.”
|Print article||This entry was posted by Nick Reisman on February 17, 2015 at 1:47 pm, and is filed under Courts. Follow any responses to this post through RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.|
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