Monday, June 19, 2017

Recording Oregon's grand juries is wrong

The bill that would require recording all grand jury testimony is about to pass, will likely add about $150,000 to Clatsop County costs and will have a particularly chilling effect on the testimony of domestic violence and child sexual abuse victims...




Recording Oregon's grand juries is wrong
By Guest Columnist
By Joshua Marquis
Posted on June 18, 2017 at 7:00 AM

Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis argues that recording grand juries will have a chilling effect on justice.  

Spencer Weiner/AP
When it comes to public safety, Oregon has long led the way on progressive policies: Allowing small amounts of marijuana in 1973. Creating some of the nation's first drug courts in 1991. Providing citizen involvement in grand juries, where criminals are charged. Now criminal defense attorneys and a phalanx of well-financed lobbyists who oppose victims' rights are pushing to record grand jury proceedings and make these secret proceedings public.

Their clarion call is "transparency," a new buzzword that, ironically in this case, obfuscates the truth. The fact is that defense attorneys want a new tool to badger and intimidate witnesses, prolong litigation and tie up courts with procedural challenges.

Rather than being honest with the public and the legislature, they enlist surrogates like Irene Kalonji whose commentary "Police killed my son and I deserve to know the truth," was published in The Oregonian's Opinion section on June 6. Kalonji wrote that 19-year old son barricaded himself in a room with a rifle in 2016 and "told emergency responders that he was going to die, threatened to shoot children, and said he believed someone had been sent to torture and kill him." After hours of negotiations with law enforcement and mental health professionals, the standoff tragically ended with his death.

Though not required, the district attorney presented the case to seven grand jurors. Again per Kalonji's commentary, the grand jury concluded that a young man who everyone agreed suffered significant mental health issues "committed suicide by police."

The outcomes Ms. Kalonji seeks are simply not relevant to the debate over recording grand jury proceedings. The legal purpose of an Oregon grand jury is not to bring closure for victims, witnesses or family members of the accused. The grand jury is a reality check for prosecutors, who have been known to "fall in love" with a case only to be told by citizen grand jurors it lacks legal merit. A main reason grand jury proceedings are "secret" is to protect the reputations of those who are accused, but not indicted.

Further, recording grand juries will have a chilling effect on justice. What domestic violence victim will be willing to share her story when she knows that a recording of her statement could be handed over to the man who beat her or her children just days earlier? Even the most optimistic among us know how tragically that could end.

For decades, grand juries have operated inexpensively and efficiently. Adopting recording that would achieve the current judicial standard could exceed $10 million. Recording equipment would be required in every county, expert clerks would be required to operate and service the equipment, and the thousands of hours of recordings would need to be stored for years.

Assuming the legislature adopts this dangerous, misguided policy, most district attorneys, including myself, are likely to reserve grand juries for unusual cases. Instead, we will conduct preliminary hearings, the way California, Idaho and more than 20 other states have to bring cases to trial.

Preliminary hearings offer the most transparency, yet take much more time and could cost the state as much as $10 million annually for a process, which currently isn't required.

Why "fix" a system that isn't broken? In 1994, I was appointed by Gov. Barbara Roberts after my predecessor lied to the Clatsop County grand jury to falsely charge two police officers for crimes they never committed. Her secret indictment and subsequent conviction reassured citizens that the grand jury system works.

There is no chance that recording grand juries will prevent the next violent interaction between a troubled teenager and law enforcement. Rather, it could mean the mental health services Christopher Kalonji desperately needed will be even further out of reach for others. Instead of sinking millions into a solution for which there is no problem, how about the legislature invest the millions on desperately needed mental health services? We might then have a chance to prevent the next tragedy, instead of just recording its aftermath.

Joshua Marquis is in his seventh term as the Clatsop County District Attorney. He also served as president of the Oregon District Attorneys Association in 2001, as well as vice president of the National District Attorneys Association.

Read the column and its comments on the Oregonian's website.

No comments:

Post a Comment