Abolish Grand Jury for Police Behavior??

If a cop kills someone while on duty, the legal response is usually to call for a grand jury hearing.  Should we abolish the grand jury for policegrand jury behavior?  Many people have urged a change in the law. The system could be improved, but I think we should keep the grand jury review as it is.

First of all, what is a grand jury?  Unlike a 12 person jury in a trial, the grand jury has 23 members who meet in secret and hear evidence presented by a prosecutor.  The defendant is usually not called nor is a defense lawyer present.  The jurors may question the witnesses and the prosecutor.  After hearing the evidence, they choose to either indict the suspect or not.

Opponents of the grand jury system for reviewing possible police misconduct say:

  1.  The proceedings are in secret and not open to the public
  2. The prosecutor can influence the grand jury and will take the side of the police
  3. None of the evidence presented at the hearing will be made public unless the suspect is indicted
  4. The recent history of grand jury hearings in Minnesota about police misconduct have resulted in no indictments

Here’s an editorial that supports retaining the present system:  http://www.startribune.com/grand-juries-serve-justice-in-police-cases/369194291/  It’s written by someone who served on a grand jury.

Here are some legal reasons we should keep in mind when deciding to keep the present grand jury system.

Of all citizens, only police are legally justified to use deadly force.  If I kill my neighbor, I will be charged with murder.  But legislatures have carved-out an exception for law enforcement—they may use deadly force in a reasonable way in the discharge of their duties.  So, their conduct is measured by a different standard.

The proceedings should remain secret.  The purpose is to avoid mob rule or to charge innocent people just because the media or the public want an indictment.  After all, when the prosecutor charges a citizen, it is done in secret—the prosecutor doesn’t share any evidence until the case goes to trial.

Opponents say few, if any, cops are indicted.  They forget that the standard for a cop accused of murder is different than for me.  The grand jury looks at the cop’s actions decides if the cop acted in a “reasonable manner under all the circumstances.”  We need to retain that standard.  Otherwise, no police officer will do their job.  They’ll worry any time they’re trying to enforce the law and someone is killed the cop will be indicted.

Of course, it’s a tragedy when anyone is killed—even a criminal.  But there are times when this action is justified.  There are times when the rest of us are threatened by dangerous criminals.  We need police who are willing to act in those situations to protect the rest of us without worrying about being indicted.

What do you think we should do?



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About Colin Nelson

Colin T. Nelson worked for 40 years as a prosecutor and criminal defense lawyer in Minneapolis. He tried everything from speeding tickets to first degree murder. His writing about the courtroom and the legal system give the reader a "back door" view of what goes on, what's funny, and what's a good story. He has also traveled extensively and includes those locations in his mysteries. Some are set in Southeast Asia, Ecuador,Peru, and South Africa. Readers get a suspenseful tale while learning about new places on the planet. Colin is married, has two adult children, and plays the saxophone in various bands.

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