A legislative proposal introduced Tuesday that would curtail certain unique grand jury privileges for police officers in cases where they shoot someone was the product of months of negotiations between law enforcement groups, prosecutors and lawmakers.
But police still don’t want to lose their right to be in the grand jury room to hear all the evidence against them in cases where they face possible criminal charges. House Bill 941 would eliminate that privilege while still allowing officers to give a statement to grand jurors. However, that statement would now be subject to cross-examination by prosecutors and grand jurors. Existing law does not allow the officer’s statements to be questioned.
The proposal follows an Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Channel 2 Action News investigation that examined police shootings across Georgia and raised questions about the state’s grand jury process when officers stand accused of possible wrongdoing.
During negotiations, police have been reluctant to give up the right to be in the grand jury room during the entire proceeding, even though few states grant such broad legal privileges to police as Georgia law permits.
Georgia prosecutors and lawmakers supporting the bill seem think that privilege has to go because it calls into questions of fairness and the possibility of undue influence by officers that could hurt the integrity of the grand jury process.
Expect that issue to be debated once the bill, possibly as soon as Friday when it gets its first hearing in the Judiciary Non-Civil Committee, whose chairman, Rich Golick, R-Smyrna, is co-sponsoring the bill.
“I believe we’re going to have a healthy discussion about the prudence of a police officer being present in the grand jury,” said Chuck Spahos, executive director of the Georgia Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council. “That’s been one of the most debated issues. We’re going to stand firm…We do believe that needs to change. The whole point of the bill is about transparency and accountability of the process.”