Rep. Johnson introduces Grand Jury Reform Act

In the wake of a string of controversies involving no-indictments of police officers from grand juries, Congressman Hank Johnson (GA-04) has introduced H.R. 5830, the “Grand Jury Reform Act.”

The relatively simple bill, which Johnson pitched in a Huffington Post editorial, would prevent a secret grand jury process specifically for those cases involving “a law enforcement officer who uses deadly force against a person.”

Using federal funding as an enforcement mechanism, the bill would also require governors to appoint a special prosecutor in such cases to present evidence of probable cause on behalf of the state at a preliminary hearing.

These hearings and the evidence presented would now be open to the public, preventing the kind of secret proceedings that caused so much controversy in the the judicial proceedings of Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri.

“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,” said Johnson. “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.”

Johnson plans to introduce the legislation formally early next year.

22 comments

    • JayJacket says:

      Yup. This may actually be one of those rare bills that is unconstitutional, probably on federalism grounds. It’s infringing on the state police power, and the only federal tie-in is funding, but we know from the Obamacare Medicaid case that coercive exercise of federal power, like mandating a new condition with which the states must comply or else lose their money, is unconstitutional.

      Obviously this is just an exercise is hypothesizing since it’s more of a discussion bill than an enactment one.

      • objective says:

        as an aside from this bill’s constitutionality, i didn’t read the holding in the Medicaid case as broad as your comment suggests. the federal spending power remains broad and deep, and not well-challenged, as legal/policy mandates come along with, probably, most every federal dollar it transfers to states.

        re: this bill, it’s a worthwhile policy to advocate, but i think the changes are best done through the courts.

    • My business partner served 6 weeks on the DeKalb grand jury. The “Land of Gangsters”. He was on the grand jury that indicted and convicted that dirty cop.

      He told me that 80% of the cases were drug cases, and that 9 out of 10 of those were for possession “to sale” of more than an ounce but less than a pound of cannabis. 60% of the violent cases were for police actions and the rest were white collar crimes like fraud, etc. 90% of all cases were of people of color, both perps and victims.

      So nooooooooooo, salty. It does not mean that scary black men will terrorize little white ladies on the jury. That is what happens in movies. Try to lose the ‘hot button’ words like ‘thugs’ and ‘gangsTERS’.

  1. billfisher says:

    So we let protesters who conveniently ignore legal findings set public policy? Guess that is the best we can expect from Johnson………………..

  2. jiminga says:

    I’d like to offer a slight revision ….. “those cases involving “a law enforcement officer who uses deadly force against a BLACK person.”.

  3. Dave Bearse says:

    What’s telling in the Ferguson and NYC cases (and here in Georgia where no indictment was reduced against a task force that killed a preacher a few years ago, then blew baby’s face off with stun grenade over a $50 meth sale in the driveway days before) is that prosecutors can indict a ham sandwich if they want to.

    • gcp says:

      An outside DA (Pete Scandalakis) observed and participated in the Habersham case. An outside DA (Danny Porter) reviewed the other case involving the “preacher” and concurred on no criminal charges for pd.

      Feds have authority under federal law title 18 section 242 to investigate and prosecute any pd use of force. Feds are currently investigating the Habersham drug raid.

      • Dave Bearse says:

        I’m not well-informed about the details of the preacher’s death. I’ll let the jury’s Feb 2014 $2.3M wrongful death award to the widow speak for itself.

        Just months later the same task force negligently (on multiple counts: no knock warrant for a $50 driveway meth sale, and walking by a mini-van with children’s car seats in it to execute the warrant without the faintest idea whether the warrant’s target was at the home, which he wasn’t) throws a flash bang grenade into a baby crib, and the DA in charge shirks duty with a hands off approach in a secret grand jury proceeding.

        • gcp says:

          You distrust both Scandalakis and the ongoing separate federal investigation? Scandalakis is a veteran DA; DA of the year in ’07. BTW the grand jury did have concerns about tactics used in the Habersham raid but it didn’t rise to level of criminal conduct.

          As for the civil settlement in the other case you understand standard of proof is much different between civil/criminal?

          Also remember both DA and sheriff are elected officials that can be voted out of office.

          • Dave Bearse says:

            Skandalakis is reputable, but Skandalakis wouldn’t rat out the DA in charge concerning a secret proceeding, unless the handling of the proceeding by the presiding DA was egregious. Did Skandalakis state he would have not encouraged the jury to return an indictment, because the presiding DA certainly didn’t?

            I’ll have to disagree with a grand jury finding that there wasn’t probable cause for criminal negligence in the obtaining of a no-knock warrant based on a witness to a $50 drug sale in a driveway, then executing it with zero stakeout of the residence for the person of interest, or so much as casual observation of the vehicle in the drive.

            The Grand Jury’s findings read like run-on excuses for negligence: “sloppy and hurried”, “not in accordance with best practices”, “the zeal to hold them [drug dealer] accountable must not override cautious and patient judgment”, “there should be no such thing as an emergency drug investigation”, ‘that every effort should be made in determining presence of children”, yada yada, yada.

            Ultimately, the police throwing a flash bang grenade in a baby’s crib was nothing more than run of the mill drug war collateral damage for the baby’s family to deal with on its own, since the police work was of a such a high caliber that compensation for medical costs was undeserved.

            • gcp says:

              Strange that you distrust not one, but two district attorneys. To imply they conspired not to indict is bizarre. Never heard that one before.

              If the U.S. attorney fails to indict will she also be part of the conspiracy?

              And what criminal charge would you use against the officers?

  4. Will Durant says:

    The prosecutor’s office has to work with the local police and is often too cozy with them. Perhaps we need something on the books at the state level requiring an outside prosecutor always be brought in on indictment issues involving law enforcement types. The tough part is who makes the decision that a case needs to be presented to a grand jury.

    I’ve sat on a both a county and a federal grand jury and have to agree that if a prosecutor really wants an indictment he can pretty much get one.

    • Harry says:

      “…if a prosecutor really wants an indictment he can pretty much get one.” That statement has been bothering me a couple of days because it’s too simplistic and perhaps judgmental of prosecutors. When a cop makes a bad choice one question is, was it intentional? Yes there are bad cops, but almost always the mistakes are honest ones and often there is literally a fraction of a second to decide. When there are sketchy facts involved, I’m sure prosecutors appreciate having a grand jury.

  5. ISpeakLikeMalcolmDressLikeTrayvon says:

    A lot of what is going on in our country right now is very confusing and heartbreaking and people’s reaction to these events are even more heart breaking. What I need so called “conservatives” to understand is we have been dealing with this police problem for close to a century and it is just now coming to the forefront because of the speed with which news moves now and also understand that what was once “our” problem or a black problem is now becoming your problem as well. One pattern that i’m noticing with most of these shooting cases are the police officer’s complete lack of competance or composure. Where are we getting these police officers? If the mission is really to serve & protect then we need the highest level of police officer available. These men and women should not only be able to make wise decisions but should be able to make them in a split second, that is what we demand of our military and that is what we should demand of our police. This whole situation facing our country right now makes me so glad I live in a city where our police force is required to have a four year degree and we are not subject to some of the thugs & complete boneheads that police other precincts and counties around the country.

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