PolitiCal

Gov. Brown signs law barring grand juries in police deadly force cases

Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Tuesday a measure that prohibits secret grand juries to weigh in on cases involving excessive or deadly force by law enforcement, and another affirming the public’s right to take audio or video recordings of police officers.

Both measures were part of a spate of proposals introduced by lawmakers earlier this year on police accountability; some of the more controversial bills dealing with body-worn cameras or reporting on use-of-force incidents have stalled in the Legislature.

Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) offered the grand juries measure in response to high-profile incidents in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City, where grand juries declined to indict police officers for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, respectively.

Mitchell said her bill, SB 227, would help make judicial proceedings more transparent and accountable. Los Angeles and Santa Clara counties already have opted not to use grand juries when an officer's actions may have caused someone's death. 

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

The measure was opposed by law enforcement groups, including the California Assn. of District Attorneys, which argued the grand jury system was a useful prosecutorial tool.

Brown also approved the "right to record" bill by Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens). The measure, SB 411, makes clear that it is legal for a person to record the actions of a police officer if that officer is in a public place, or if the person making the recording has a right to be in that place.

“With the stroke of a pen, Gov. Brown reinforces our 1st Amendment right and ensures transparency, accountability and justice for all Californians," Lara said in a statement.  "At a time when cellphone and video footage is helping steer important national civil rights conversations, passage of the Right to Record Act sets an example for the rest of the nation to follow.”

Follow @melmason for more on California government and politics.

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