SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — As protests against police brutality in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases continue, a variety of legal reforms could likely come out of all this action.
The reforms that appear to be gaining steam focus on the relationship between the prosecutor’s office and police. Remember that, most of the time, the prosecutor is working with the police to prosecute criminals. In a grand jury proceeding, everything is private and the prosecutor has total control over what to present. This leaves some people skeptical about how hard prosecutors are really going after these police officers behind the closed doors of the grand jury.
But, you don’t have to use a grand jury. There are alternatives.
Another process, called a preliminary hearing (or probable cause hearing) does exactly what the grand jury does but it is a public hearing where a judge is in charge, not a prosecutor.
One change would be to do away with grand jury hearings for officer indictments and instead force them all through these public preliminary hearings.
Another reform would create a special prosecutor for officer-involved cases, so that the regular prosecutor – the one who with a relationship with the police – isn’t involved at all.
No legislation been proposed for any of this yet. State legislatures are on holiday but it’s likely we’ll see statewide proposals in California and New York in the new year. At the federal level, a bill has been proposed by a Democrat, Hank Johnson, that would require a public hearing instead of a grand jury hearing for any officer-involved death. With Republicans taking over congress in January, the bill may not get anywhere, but it will put people on record.
President Obama has also requested $253 million dollars for police cameras and a number of places right here in the Bay Area aren’t even waiting for that – Sonoma, Richmond, Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose all have at least some officers who wear cameras.
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