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Will Georgia finally change law granting police grand jury access?

A few weeks back, our blog discussed how a case involving a suburban Atlanta police officer facing felony murder charges over the shooting death of an unarmed, mentally ill veteran was generating headlines throughout the state and across much of the nation.

While you might think that the conversations surrounding this case would subside until the date of the trial gets closer, it is continuing to make the news. In particular, the coverage is now focused on how Georgia law differs from the rest of the nation when it comes to grand juries and police access.

What exactly is a grand jury proceeding?

In general, a grand jury proceeding is a legal proceeding in which a prosecutor will present evidence to grand jury members who, in turn, will determine whether there is sufficient probable cause to believe that the defendant committed the crime in question and should be tried (i.e., hand down an indictment).   

Generally, grand jury proceedings are held in secret, such that the accused is unaware of what is going on.

How does Georgia differ from the rest of the nation regarding grand jury proceedings?

Georgia is the only state in the nation that allows law enforcement officials to not only be present at grand jury proceedings, but also make an unchallenged statement at the end.

What are the arguments for and against this system?

Proponents argue that officers should be permitted to attend the hearing and explain their actions given the gravity of the matter, their unique perspective, and the fact that they are sometimes forced to make life-and-death decisions in the span of a few seconds.

Critics, however, argue that not only does this system provide officers with an advantage generally not available to the general public, but also makes it exceedingly difficult to secure an indictment. Furthermore, they argue that it enables the officer's attorneys to see the prosecution's evidence well in advance of trial.

What's the position of state lawmakers on this matter?  

Interestingly, a bill was introduced just this week that while stopping short of banning officers from grand jury proceedings or making statements at the end, would nevertheless allow the prosecutor or grand jurors to question the officer, and enable the prosecutor to present evidence rebutting any claims made in the statement.  

It will be fascinating to see whether this bill gains the necessary traction.

If you have been charged with any sort of felony, please consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible to learn more about your rights and options. 

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