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California eliminates grand jury use in excessive force cases

New law in California eliminates grand jury use in excessive force cases; Senate Bill 227 written by state Sen. Holly J. Mitchell bans use of grand jury when law enforcement causes the death of a

New law in California eliminates grand jury use in excessive force cases; Senate Bill 227 written by state Sen. Holly J. Mitchell bans use of grand jury when law enforcement causes the death of a suspect

FINALLY! — Almost one year after that White cop killed unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and almost two years after unarmed Black and Latino men, women and children all over the country became victims of law enforcement’s executions for no lethal reason, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 227 into law on Aug. 11th. The bill was written by state Sen. Holly J. Mitchell, one of the few elected officials in the country who believe that #BlackLivesMatter and who took the bold step to enshrine that sentiment into the law.

ComptonHerald.com | Betty Pleasant

“Soulvine” is commentary by Betty Pleasant

Widely supported by a large coalition of activists and public interest groups, SB227 calls for the elimination of law enforcement’s pet procedure — the use of criminal grand juries to investigate cases in which members of law enforcement cause the death of a suspect, either by a shooting or by any other use of excessive force.

The new law is being heralded by many as a necessary step toward restoring transparency and accountability to a system of justice that operates almost entirely outside any kind of meaningful oversight.

“One doesn’t have to be a lawyer to understand why SB277 makes sense,” said the wonderful Mitchell. “The use of the criminal grand jury process, and the refusal to indict as in Ferguson and other communities of color, has fostered an atmosphere of suspicion that threatens to compromise our entire justice system,” Mitchell said. (ahh, do you think?)

Mitchell explained that criminal grand jury proceedings differ from traditional trials in a variety of ways. She said they are not adversarial and that no judges or defense attorneys participate. “There is no cross-examination of witnesses and there are no objections made to whatever is said or done. How prosecutors explain the law to the jurors and what prosecutors say about the evidence is subject to no oversight and the proceedings are shrouded in secrecy,” the senator said.

“Communities want a criminal justice system that is transparent and which holds all the players — law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges — accountable when there are civilian deaths resulting from the conduct of officers. And criminal grand juries do neither,” said LaDoris Hazzard Cordill, California’s first African-American judge, and San Jose’s former police auditor. “I applaud Gov. Brown for doing the right thing and sending a message to all Californians that his administration wants a criminal justice system to be fair, transparent and accountable,” Cordill added.

The senator related that groups representing communities of color have been especially vocal in their support of bills designed to bring greater transparency to law enforcement operations and justice proceedings.

ComptonHerald.com | California law limits grand jury use

“Communities want a criminal justice system that is transparent and which holds all the players — law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges — accountable when there are civilian deaths resulting from the conduct of officers” — LaDoris Hazzard Cordill. Photo: web.stanford.edu

Cordill explained that under California law, all felony cases which go to a trial by jury must first undergo a screening process consisting of either a “preliminary examination” or an “indictment” by grand jury The choice as to which route is taken is up to the prosecutor, alone.

Mitchell added that SB227 is supported by the California NAACP, the California Alliance of Boys and Men of Color, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, among others (and no doubt the ACLUs all across the country).

In fact, the Soulvine just learned that New York Assemblyman Charles Barron, who represents Brooklyn’s 60th District in that state’s Legislature, is preparing to introduce a bill in New York identical to Mitchell’s SB227.

SB227 is a great step in the right direction, but we still need laws that would stop LAPD chief Charlie Beck from telling us he cannot provide basic details as to how his cops killed 13 people so far this year. The most recent being the cop killing last week of a woman who was running away from them in a Baldwin Hills alley. We still don’t know the details of what led to the LAPD killing Ezell Ford — an unarmed mentally challenged Black man walking down the street. Beck keeps saying the circumstances of his slaughter by cops are “private.”

Next week, we’ll examine the cozy relationship between our local law enforcement and our county prosecutors.

Betty Pleasant is a contributing writer and columnist for the Compton Herald. She was formerly a reporter at the Los Angeles Sentinel and a columnist at the Los Angeles Wave.

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