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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BenevolusDave BearsebethebalancegcpLea Thrace Recent comment authors
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Lea Thrace
Lea Thrace

About flipping time this process was changed!

gcp
gcp

It’s mostly a decent bill that may partially appease a few of the police critics and it is supported by some district attorneys. That the grand jury must commence within one year of the incident is good but recording the proceedings is questionable as it violates traditional grand jury secrecy. Best to wait for final version before proclaiming it a good bill.

bethebalance
bethebalance

nice to see some bipartisanship on this.

Dave Bearse
Dave Bearse

“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.”

The officer’s perspective is really no different than that of someone that killed someone in a stand your ground shooting.

Benevolus
Benevolus

I think it is different, but I don’t really have a problem with the bill.
Most of us expect to run away from danger but we ask cops to run towards it. Giving them a chance to present their perspective doesn’t seem like it would do any harm. This is better with the questioning allowed.