House Proposes Reform of Police Trial Procedures

Last March, a DeKalb County police officer responded to a call reporting a naked man behaving strangely. The officer, Robert Olsen, shot the man dead.  Tried by the grand jury, District Attorney Richard James won the indictment against Olsen. However, many believe that the justice system through which law officers are tried is in need of reform.

Recently interviewed about the issue, Chuck Spahos, executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia is one such person:

Georgia is the only state that allows the officer’s unchallenged statement at the end of a grand jury session, said Chuck Spahos, executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia. In some other states, a prosecutor can call the officer as a witness, but the officer is subject to questions and can’t listen to the other testimony.

In most states, the person accused of wrongdoing is not aware when the grand jury is hearing the case. However, Georgia is currently the only state with a different set of rules. In Georgia, law enforcement officers, like the one in this case, are permitted to watch the entire proceeding and give a final statement without cross-examination.

Others, like Joe Stiles, executive director of the Georgia division of the Southern States Police Benevolent Association, believe that a police officer’s perspective is unique compared to those of other witnesses—the intense pressure and split-second decisions require a different judicial process. “The officer’s perspective is different from other witnesses”, said Stiles. “He can help explain why, as a police officer, he took the actions that he took.”

On Monday, House Bill 941 was proposed to amend the current system. Sponsored by Rich Golick (R-40), Alex Atwood (R-179), B.J. Pak (R-108), and Stacey Abrams (D-89).

The bill, if passed, would require that officers be notified and given a copy of the proposed indictment at least 20 days before the grand jury meets. Though the officer cannot be required to appear as a witness, under this bill he or she may request to do so. Like in the current system, the officer will appear at the end of the prosecutor’s presentation and will be allowed to make a statement. Under this reform, the office may be questioned by the prosecutor or the grand jurors, and the prosecutor may present rebuttal evidence.


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