Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) today introduced a bill to put federal regulations on how local grand juries hear cases in which police officers are accused of killing civilians.
The Grand Jury Reform Act would compel local agencies to comply with the new process by restricting federal funding.
Victims’ families in recent high-profile cases have argued that prosecutors, who work closely with the cops on a daily basis, have intentionally not sought indictments in the evidence presented to grand juries and how the cases are argued.
“There exists a symbiotic relationship between local prosecutors and the law enforcement officers who regularly testify in routine grand jury investigations,” the legislation states. “The closeness of this relationship creates public suspicion that accused police officers receive preferential consideration from grand juries when they are subject to grand jury investigations.”
Johnson’s bill would require the appointment of a special prosecutor who would conduct a probable cause hearing on cases where a crime was potentially committed by an officer in a use of deadly force. Unlike closed-door grand jury proceedings, this would be open to the public.
“The Governor shall use a random process to select the special prosecutor from among the prosecutors in the State, excluding the prosecutors of the locality in which the death took place,” the bill states. The judge will rule if probable cause exists to bring charges against an officer. Both the judge and the special prosecutor will submit their recommendations to the chief prosecutor in the locality where the death occurred.
“The protesters demand an end to what is perceived as unequal justice, and that those who are responsible for the use of excessive force be brought to justice,” Johnson said this morning. “They do not trust a secret grand jury system that is so clearly broken. My bill will help restore that trust. No longer will communities have to rely on the secret and biased grand jury process.”
Since the 113th Congress is almost over, Johnson plans on reintroducing it in the 114th Congress in January. House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.) is a co-sponsor.
“The recent grand jury proceedings following the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner have followed historical tradition, ending with a refusal to indict the law enforcement officers involved in their deaths,” the bill states. “The American people have lost confidence in the secretive grand jury process when it is used to evaluate allegations of police misconduct. The loss of confidence in our system of justice leads to the undermining of the principles of equality and justice upon which this country was founded.”