Jerry Brown (157285)

Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed into law SB 227, authored by state Sen. Holly J. Mitchell, (D- Los Angeles) . Widely supported by a network of activists and public-interest groups, the legislation prohibits the use of a criminal grand jury to investigate cases where a member of law enforcement is alleged to have caused the death of a suspect, either by a shooting or use of excessive force.

Brown’s signature follows a number of high-profile police shootings of African American men throughout the country in recent months, including last year’s slaying of unarmed Black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. His death, and the subsequent ruling that exonerated officer Darren Wilson from being charged with Brown’s murder, has been the driving force behind a “Black Lives Matter” movement to raise awareness of police brutality against people of color.

Mitchell’s bill has been heralded by many as a necessary step towards restoring accountability and transparency to a system of justice that reportedly operates almost entirely outside any kind of meaningful oversight.

“One doesn’t have to be a lawyer to understand why SB 227 makes sense,” said Mitchell. “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.”

Criminal grand jury proceedings differ from traditional trials in a variety of ways. They are not adversarial. No judges or defense attorneys participate. 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.

“Communities want a criminal justice system that is transparent and that holds all of the players—law enforcement, prosecutors and judges—accountable when there are civilian deaths resulting from the conduct of officers. Criminal grand juries do neither,” said LaDoris Hazzard Cordell, northern California’s first African American woman judge, and former San Jose police auditor. “I applaud Gov. Brown for doing the right thing and sending a message to all Californians that his administration wants our criminal justice system to be fair, transparent and accountable.”