The Grand Jury: A Shield of a Different Sort
23 Pages Posted: 8 Feb 2018 Last revised: 10 Feb 2018
Date Written: February 7, 2018
According to the Washington Post, 991 people were shot to death by police officers in the United States during calendar year 2015, and 957 people were fatally shot in 2016. A disproportionate percentage of the citizens killed in these police-civilian encounters were black. Events in Ferguson, Missouri; Chicago, Illinois; Charlotte, North Carolina; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and Staten Island, New York - to name but a few affected cities - have now exposed deep distrust between communities of color and law enforcement. Greater transparency is necessary to begin to heal this culture of distrust and to inform the debate going forward about police practices in America.
The recent spate of deadly police-civilian encounters has generated enormous media coverage, national discourse, and a proliferation of recommended solutions. In this Essay, we will suggest three modest but important reforms to the grand jury process that we think will help increase transparency, reduce the legitimacy deficit, and restore public confidence in what are admittedly very difficult charging decisions involving the police use of deadly force. Part I examines grand jury secrecy rules in the context of externally created evidence (e.g., dash-cam and body-cam videos) and argues for a uniform, interpretive approach consistent with that followed by a majority of states. Part II discusses evidence presentation before the- grand jury and urges the adoption of a rule that mandates the recording of grand jury instructions. Finally, Part III argues that state criminal procedure rules should be amended to empower states' attorneys to move the court for the public release of redacted grand jury minutes in instances when a no-bill is returned and it is in the public interest.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation