Breonna Taylor Case Prompts Expanded Criticism of Grand Jury Processes in Police Misconduct Cases

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Breonna Taylor Case Prompts Expanded Criticism of Grand Jury Processes in Police Misconduct Cases in Washington State reports a growing number of civil-rights activists and legal scholars are frustrated with grand juries repeatedly declining to indict police officers in fatal shootings. They say it’s time to instill more transparency in grand jury proceedings dealing with police misconduct. “There’s no judge and there’s no lawyer representing the other side. It’s completely a person in a room of people and he or she tells them what to feel, think and, basically, what to do,” Joseph H. Low IV, a Los Angeles criminal defense and civil trial lawyer, told ABC News. “Honestly, it’s an appearance of something that is supposed to be objective and fair, but in actuality, it’s a complete joke. Here’s why: because that head prosecutor is paid by the state, the exact same people who pay the cops, and the exact same people who pay the judge. If you really want some reform that’s effective and is actually going to work, you’ve got to start with reforming the relationships between the judges and how they get appointed to that position, the prosecutors and how they get there and the cops so that they can’t all work together again. So, if you want to do it you can’t just do one, you’ve got to do all three and the people should be calling for that.”

Stephen Bright, a civil-rights lawyer and guest lecturer at Yale University Law School, said the cloak of secrecy in grand jury hearings concerning police misconduct should also be removed. “When these big celebrated cases come along the grand jury I think is ill-fitted for these because the secrecy is a negative thing here. You want accountability, you want transparency,” Bright told ABC News. Bright suggested that instead of a grand jury, the decision to charge officers in police misconduct cases should be handled similar to a preliminary hearing in open court with a judge presiding over the proceedings and defense attorneys present to challenge the prosecution’s evidence. “It’s public, witnesses testify. I think that would be valuable because that way it’s all out in public, everybody can hear the witnesses and see what they say and hopefully people who want to testify would have the chance to testify.” Bright added, “My criticism in this (the Taylor case) and other cases is they act like the grand jury is the trial. The grand jury is not the trial. The grand jury is just the charge.”

Trial Practitioners Debate Constitutionality of Remote Criminal Jury Trials

Litigators at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP tell Law 360 about constitutional issues being raised in various U.S. District Courts related to virtual jury selection during the pandemic. Fair cross-section concerns predominate.

Virtual Jury Selection in New Jersey’s First Pandemic Jury Trial Challenged

Lawyers for accused arsonist Wildemar Dagcil filed an emergency appeal during the jury selection stage of his trial in Bergen, New Jersey. They claim that the trial court’s management of the Zoom platform yielded an unrepresentative jury pool and mysteriously eliminated some prospective jurors before formal voir dire commenced. Defense lawyer James Lisa told New Jersey 101.5 Radio, “Of the 800 jurors who were contacted, over 600 were disqualified, excluded, or excused. Parties must know who made those decisions, what criteria were used and what the demographics were. Jurors are interviewed virtually from their homes before they are summoned to judge the case in person. The elderly and economically disadvantaged—who might not have access to WiFi—were disproportionately rejected from the jury pool of nearly 200 people eligible to hear the case.” A few days later, the intermediate appellate court found no proof that the jury pool was “non-random, not representative, or deficient.” Peter Michael, co-counsel for Dangcil, told he is preparing an emergency appeal to the state supreme court, requesting that jury management officials in Bergen testify as to who was excluded from the jury pool and why.

Vermont Proposes Rule on Confidentiality of Juror Questionnaire Responses

The Supreme Court has published a new rule for comment. The rule would impose confidentiality on juror qualification questionnaires. The proposal would make all information provided in written responses nonpublic except the juror’s name and town of residence absent a judicial determination of good cause. The remaining content of the questionnaires is available to attorneys and parties in the case with limited exceptions. For example, the parties may use the information in the exercise of challenges during voir dire and as authorized by the court. A public hearing will be held on October 28, 2020 at 3 pm EDT.

Michigan Courts Login More Than a Million Hours of Online Hearings Since Pandemic Hit

The Michigan Lawyers Weekly disclosed nearly 1,000 judges and court personnel are using Zoom licenses provided by the State Court Administrative Office.