tv Inside Story Al Jazeera July 24, 2015 11:30pm-12:01am EDT
you next comes technical data with additional photos expected in september. i'm antonio mora, thanks for joining us, lisa fletcher is up next with "inside story." have a great weekend. >> you wouldn't be alone if you hadn't given much thought to grand jury proceedings. most people don't unless they're sitting on one or in front of one. if you are facing serious charges appearing before a grand jury is a right embedded in the constitution. once a shield for the individual has morphed into a possible
weapon for prosecution. it's the "inside story." ers wrom to "inside story." i'm lisa fletcher in for ray suarez. tonight's program indicting the grand jury. back to the colonial days, some 200 plus years later there is a growing force of critics. grand juries don't decide guilt or innocence but rather should charges be brought. most grand jury members don't understand the complexity of the law so they can be easily led by prosecutors. if grand juries no longer be fulfill their purpose what's the
point? al jazeera answer respects has more. randall pingts pinkston has more. >> choke hold death of eric garner both cases involving police officers and unarmed brak men have led to questions about the grand jury process in this country. the united states is one of the only countries to still use grurs obe indict people for crimes. the grand jury is an institution that existed before the constitution. its purpose then is similar now to protect citizens from government prosecution without just cause.
what happens inside a grand jury room is supposed to be secret and for some, including new york state's highest ranking judge that secrecy is the problem. >> in case wrest a grand jury votes to not bring charges where no true bill s the public is left to speculate about the process, the evidence, the legal instructions, and the conclusions drawn by the grand jury. >> chief judge jonathan lipman wants to change that in new york. he is supporting legislation that will allow the release of grand jury records in some cases. criminal defense attorney jerald leftcourt agrees with lipman's plan. >> if you want to support the process it has to be more transparent. >> getting eric garner's grand jury proceeding be released to the public. >> why should the testimony of
police officers involved with eric garner, why should it remain secret? i just don't understand it. we all know who they are they are saying in sum and substance that they didn't intend to kill him to choke him. that what they did they thought was justified. why can't we hear that and read that? >> the public can read the ferguson case. >> the evidence and the testimony will be released following this statement. i'm ever mindful that this decision will not be accepted by some and may cause disappointment for others. >> former new york prosecutor randy zellen says what happens in the grand jury room must be kept confidential. >> if you remove that secrecy witness he are going to in all likelihood be far more hesitant about cooperating with a prosecutor in an investigation in a proceeding if he or she knows that her or his identity
will be revealed to the defendant, will be revealed to the public. >> it is obvious that we need significant change in grand jury practices and protocols. >> judge lipman also wants judges to preside over grand jury deliberations for police involved homicides and felony assaults. it is normally the prosecutor who presents all cases to a grand jury. >> of immediate concern are the perceptions of some that prosecutors' offices which work so closely with the police as they must and they should, are unable to objectively present to the grand jury, case is arising out of police civilian encounters. >> but some critics say that would create a separate system of justice for police officers. >> why should a police officer be treated any differently? yes, i understand that a police officer is held to a different standard in terms of being the one there enforcing the laws and
making sure that the public is protected. but by the same token what do judges tell jurors when a police officer takes the stand? don't treat a police officer's testimony any differently than any other witness. >> after several high profile killings nationwide, avoid any appearance of conflict of interest in the grand jury process and reestablish trust in the judicial system. randall pinkston for "inside story." >> joining me now the debbie hines, currently a trial attorney based here in d.c. debbie thanks for joining us. >> thank you for having me lisa. >> what are grand juries supposed to accomplish? >> fact finding mission to decide whether charges should be brought against a defendant or no charges should be brought. that's their sole purpose to
hear witnesses documents if any, to make a bill of indictment or new true bill. >> how effective are they? >> they are typically very effective, in the grand jury the only persons in the grand jury are the prosecutor, the grand jurors and the stenographer. that's it. for rare reasons if maybe the witness has to testify but one-sided team and that's the prosecutor. >> you've been a prosecutor, you've been on that side of it, now you're a prosecutor. what works well in terms of how the grand jury is is functioning? >> in most cases the grand jury works very well. it is not a trial. that's for something down the line. it is just initially to decide whether charges should be brought. and although we have been hearing about charges not being brought against police officers there are also times that the
grand jury will not charge a defendant that is not a police officer in the case. because they just don't believe the evidence is there. >> so the purpose of grand jury if i understand it correctly is twofold. it's to evaluate the evidence and decide whether an indictment or charges should be brought. but it's also used as an investigative tool right? >> it can be. because the grand jury can also decide oh, we need to see more. we need more documents if it's that type of a case. we need you to bring in more witnesses. but the thing i want to make clear is in most instances the grand jury is hearing only a limited amount of evidence from the prosecutor. they're not hearing everything that's going to occur at the trial. i as a prosecutor i go before the grand jury when i bring it, i'm only bringing in very limited witnesses and maybe the police officer. >> what's the subpoena power of the grand jury? >> the grand jury can subpoena witnesses, they can subpoena
documents, whatever information they think they need to have further, they have the power to do that. >> are the grand jurors get together and asking, what do you think about this? i'd like to see more evidence. >> that's a good question. in most states they could be sitting as long as two or three months. it may not be every day but the length of time can be two to three months. so they get to know the prosecutor, the same prosecutor is coming in and usually if it's a unit in a major city they are seeing pretty much the same person so they're getting comfortable with me as a prosecutor as i'm presenting cases. >> do you worry about that, since there isn't a defense attorney at the same time, the grand jurors are getting comfortable with you and solely
you? >> it's to decide charges should be brought whether the person is guilty or not guilty that's for a trial that's down the line. this is just the first step in the proceeding. >> okay one last question. are standards of evidence different for the grand jury proceedings than for trial juries? >> absolutely. in grand jury, there is hearsay evidence. a police officer may be coming in and saying i interviewed lisa and this is what lisa said. it is off reading notes. you normally won't be in the grand jury as a victim, but in a trial you must come in and testify, the prosecutor cannot present any hearsay evidence. >> debbie hines stay put. shield the process from racial bias political pressures or prosecutorial overreach the
grand jury proceedings are done in secret. when we return we are going to take a closer look at both sides of the debate. indicting the grand jury, it's the "inside story." alex gibney. a hard hitting look at the real issues facing american teens. the incredible journey continues. "on the edge of eighteen".
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will hear grand jury's prime purpose as the shield and the sword. criminal wrongdoing decide whether the case is strong enough to warrant indictment. the sword, grand juries have broad power to see or hear practically whatever they want. they can compel testimony which may or may not bolster the prosecution's case. but somewhere along the line has the sword become mightier than shield debbie hiens is still with us and horst horace cooper and la doris cordell from san jose california, a former independent police auditor. do you believe that grand juries protect citizens from poorly conceived and prosecution? >> first it's important to
understand there are two types of grand juries, civil and critical. mostcriminal. were abolished in 20th century gland and throughout the british empire. about 20% of the states have abolished grand juries and don't use them at all. so my view is that they have really dramatically changed in their goals. so initially they were seen as protection against overzealous prosecutors. and that's why the founding fathers in this country and after the american revolution embraced the grand juries. today they are not protection against overzealous prosecutors. they are used in my view as protection for prosecutors to give them political cover when they have to deal with controversial cases. so rather than make the decisions about whether or not to go forward with the prosecution on their own which
they do in just about every single felony case, they then hide behind, use the grand juries. i'm very concerned about secrecy with grand juries. the whole purpose of secrecy was to protect the reputations for those who would be unindicted, the suspects brought before the grand jury and then there was no indictment but there was no harm because no one knew this they came before the grand jury. today secrecy that goal is completely not case. prosecutors announce, going to the grand jury i'm taking this accused before the grand jury. so that person's reputation is not saved no matter what. >> all right debbie hines you're former prosecutor. did you use the grand jury as political cover as the judge suggests? >> no, there were cases that i didn't think they should be brought before the grand jury. we basically told the victim it is not enough there we really are not going to pursue it. so it wasn't always used in every case we get we take before
the tbrur. that's number 1. -- the grand jury. that's number one. the case is decided not everything is dumped into the grand jury. there are reasons why the grand jury is secret we talked about it earlier even though things have changed before they first evolved but in case he against drug dealers for instance if there weren't a grand jury system in some states am i going to want to come and give testimony knowing that everybody something including the drug dealer, is going to know what i have to say? >> you but horace why such a secretive process? shouldn't the american justice system be open be transparent. >> well, actually as the former prosecutor has indicated it's a very critical part of the investigative process. it may end up that after all of the information is gathered a decision to not go forward occurs. why would we really want to have a circumstance where we have put out information about people
that ruins their reputation maybe could cause them to lose their job or other things when we don't go forward but just to amplify you will have the risk that people will hear testimony and they will make changes or modifications to adjust at the event that a trial would occur. you could claim an alibi if you didn't know you needed one if it's identity in the open. prosecutors have a significant responsibility to gather that information, fact-finding in a way that kind of binds in the evidence before people get aware of it and then can modify behavior. >> judge -- >> you know with all due respect i mean i couldn't disagree more with both of your guests. i just couldn't disagree more. the purpose of the grand jury is to find probable cause. and there is another mechanism that most states utilize all of the time. prosecutors utilize preliminary examinations.
those are public adversarially hearings where each side is are represented by an attorney and a judge presides over them. in almost all instances preliminary hearings are used by prosecutors. so the issue becomes why would you go to a grand jury? i heard one gument argument well a witness might be reluctant. i've heard that argument before. if the glur grand jury indicts and the witness comes forward, i don't think that argument holds up. i really can't fathom why prosecutors are just you know unwilling to look at a system that has become so antiquated and say we really don't need it transparency accountability are important. >> i have a little push back. a significant number of criminal cases actually don't go to trial. we reach plea agreements in the overwhelming majority of these case he and if you can present
the accused with a reasonable amount of evidence that will show that they will be convicted they will accept that plea deal and your witness or witnesses actually don't have to come forward. i think we're unnecessarily impearling the privacy of people in a -- imperilling the priefns privacy of people that don't have to come forward. >> we were talking about the prosecutors and the courts. let's talk about the jurors, they are ultimately the decision makers here. debbie how well equipped are they to really make these kinds of decisions? >> well a grand jury a person that's selected to sit on a grand jury are no different than the persons who are selected to sit on a jury of your peers. >> there's no greater complexity. >> the requirement. >> let me be clear in the state
of texas it's done differently to select the grand jurors. where i practice in maryland and the district of columbia, the panel would be the same but it does differ a little bit in other jurisdictions. >> but the point is the kind of person that's sitting in that grand jury is similar to the kind of person that would ultimately give an answer, as to guilt or innocence. >> they would be deciding guilt or innocence versus deciding legally whether charges are appropriate. are they equipped to make that decision? >> yes, they are at a lesser points in deciding whether probable cause to bring charges that's a much lower standard probable cause than reasonable doubt which is what the jurors in a trial have to determine. and to answer one of the things the judge said, in preliminary hearing i'm in jurisdiction, where you could have a grand
jury or a preliminary hearing you could also have forms of hearsay where the police officer is testifying from his notes of what he heard and what the conversations were. so that's not exactly a perfect system either. >> judge corderl i'll get to you in a moment. damaged in need of repair or overhaul? indicting the grand jury, it's the "inside story."
indicting the grand jury. an in-depth look at what's wrong and right with this system. federal prosecutors sought indictments in approximately 162,000 cases and grand juries decided to indict in all but 11 of them but that pattern does not seem to hold true for police. it seems for instance in harrison county, home to houston, texas found that grand juries have not indicted a police officers since 2004. and in dallas between 2008 and 2012 returned just one indictment. so what's behind these numbers? a system crying out for an overhaul or a well oiled judicial machine. i'm back now with trial lawyer and former prosecutor debbie hines, horace cooper attorney, public policy research and former district judge la doris
cordell. what do you make of this? >> the numbers tell everything. you have a system with these grand juries dealing with police officers that is not a fair one and the public knows it. there's a huge outcry for change and short of abolishing grand juries desperately reform is needed to make this process more transparent and accountable. so for example, if i can give you one example this california there's a bill sitting on governor brown's desk now a senate bill, i hope he will sign it and if he does, that bill with it prohibit prosecutors from convening grand juries when they are investigating officer-involved shootings or uses of expensive competitive force excessive force resulting in death. >> judges are in favor of that police and prosecutors are not.
judge cordell as a judge why would you be opposed to it? >> well, i don't understand why. and i think judge lipman's reform just doesn't go far enough. i mean it still keeps the grand jury system, it puts another body in the room but i don't think it goes far enough. so i think judges of course are supporting this and i'll tell you why prosecutors are opposed to it. it's a change system. >> i'd ask debbie why she would be opposed to it, having a judge as part of the grand jury system? >> there needs to be reform but i don't think having a judge sit in on the grand jury proceedings i don't think that helps in any manner whatsoever. i think there are other reforms that can be effective but not necessarily having a judge sit in and i think where the reforms are needed which we'll get to are in the police killing excessive force cases. i don't think in other cases again prosecutors take into the
grand juries cases that we feel we can get an indictment on. that's why the numbers are high. they're not taken in every single case. >> horace, is this a way to take rather than the grand jury? >> we have been rapidly moving away from the grand jury process. more and more jurisdictions are just allowing the prosecutor to solely exercise authority in these kinds of case cases. i think if you were a defendant you would rather have the buffer of the grand jury rather than this move we are seeing to eliminate them from the process. >> judge cordell i see you shaking your head. >> i couldn't disagree more. it's a huge extent. when they indict it means you are now charged with a felony and you're in the system. when they do it it's in secrecy.
i don't understand why there's such resistance. you bring all this to the public it's up to the prosecutor. if you don't want to seek a preliminary hearing that's fine it's your decision. don't hide behind some grand jurors and feed them the evidence you want them to have. that is not way our system should be. sunlight is the best disinfectant. >> her solution would make the process much too adversarially at a very early age. we don't want a system that says everybody gets accused and goes trial, but we also don't want a system that says no matter how much evidence there is it's too hard in your case and we're going to drop it. we have to have this system that we use that operates in a way to let some of the cases be interfered with by the grand
jurors and slow down. >> debiedebbie you have 30 seconds left. >> way of a statement of charges sworn testimony of an officer before a magistrate commissioner and then there can be depending on the rules a preliminary hearing or in the case where she would have to go through a grand jury. that sort of encompasses everything. state bringing charges preliminary hearing and grand jury. >> on that note, la doris cordell, horace cooper and debbie hines. and next week, ray returns. i'm lisa fletcher, have a good weekend.