California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill into law Tuesday that prohibits secretive grand juries from determining cases where law enforcement use excessive or deadly force. The law -- the first in the nation to eliminate grand juries from indictment decisions -- is designed to remove the shroud of secrecy surrounding the indictment process and raise accountability for both prosecutors and police officers.
State Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, authored the bill after grand juries in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City decided not to indict officers in the high-profile killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner in 2014. The deaths of the two unarmed black men sparked national protests and demonstrations.
California Senate Bill 227 has received support from justice advocates concerned with racial profiling, police brutality and the potentially unfair support of law enforcement in proceedings that are closed to the public and not subject to any broader review.
"Criminal grand jury proceedings differ from traditional trials in a variety of ways: They are not adversarial. No judges or defense attorneys participate," Mitchell said in a statement, Al Jazeera reported. "There are no cross-examinations of witnesses, and there are no objections. How prosecutors explain the law to the jurors and what prosecutors say about the evidence are subject to no oversight. And the proceedings are shrouded in secrecy."
The California Association of District Attorneys, as well as other law enforcement groups, oppose the law, suggesting that the grand jury was a useful tool to weed out weak cases, the Los Angeles Times reported.
— Kim Moore (@SoulRevision) August 12, 2015
Brown also signed into law Senate Bill 411, sponsored by state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, affirming the public's right to take audio and video recordings of law enforcement officials without threat of being charged. Several other proposals by lawmakers this year to reduce police brutality remain in the state Legislature, including a measure mandating officers to wear body cameras to raise accountability.
— CYD Black Caucus (@CYDBlackCaucus) August 11, 2015
Mitchell said that SB227 could help restore some faith in the criminal justice system.
"One doesn't have to be a lawyer to understand why SB227 makes sense," Mitchell said, reported the Los Angeles Times. "The use of the criminal grand jury process, and the refusal to indict as occurred in Ferguson and other communities of color, has fostered an atmosphere of suspicion that threatens to compromise our justice system."