Rodney King and the Decriminalization of Police Brutality in America: Direct and Judicial Access to the Grand Jury as Remedies for Victims of Police Brutality When the Prosecutor Declines to Prosecute

87 Pages Posted: 15 Nov 2014

See all articles by Peter L. Davis

Peter L. Davis

Touro College - Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center

Date Written: 1994

Abstract

This Article begins with the premise that, despite political rhetoric and occasional prosecutions to the contrary, police brutality has been effectively decriminalized in this country. The Article adopts the Rodney King case as the paradigm for examining this phenomenon. Scrutinizing the culture and semantics of police brutality, the author concludes that a double standard of criminality exists in the United States, under which different rules apply to a police than to everyone else. This double standard is socially dysfunctional. Particularly among minorities, it leads to a sense of cynicism about our legal system that can result in civil disorder when properly fueled. More importantly, this double standard is morally wrong.

Because existing measures, including civil suits and civilian review boards, have failed to deter police misconduct, the author suggests that only the realistic threat of criminal prosecution will actually deter police violence. Unfortunately, the close working relationship between the place and prosecutors continues to make it extremely unlikely that many prosecutors will ever mount a credible challenge to systemic police brutality. Although, at first glance, traditional judicial deference to prosecutorial discretion may appear to preclude other avenues for undertaking criminal prosecution of officers who engage in police brutality, the author suggests there is another approach - citizen access to the grand jury - that could help current imbalance. This Article examines the avenues available under current law by which victimized citizens may bring their cases before the grand jury, either directly or through the impaneling judge, even when such action is opposed by the public prosecutor. The author concludes that he only reason that citizens have pursued this option so infrequently is that neither the bar nor the general public is aware of it. Thus, the goal of the Article is to analyze the pertinent law and provide practicing attorneys - and their clients - with information on procedures for gaining access to the grand jury in their jurisdictions.

Keywords: Rodney King, police brutality, grand jury, criminal prosecution of police officers, police misconduct

Suggested Citation

Davis, Peter L., Rodney King and the Decriminalization of Police Brutality in America: Direct and Judicial Access to the Grand Jury as Remedies for Victims of Police Brutality When the Prosecutor Declines to Prosecute (1994). 53 Maryland Law Review 271 (1994); Touro Law Center Legal Studies Research Paper. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2524169

Peter L. Davis (Contact Author)

Touro College - Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center ( email )

225 Eastview Drive
Central Islip, NY 11722
United States

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