New York’s Top Judge Calls For Overhaul Of State’s Grand Jury System

February 17, 2015

Following two controversial decisions by grand juries in New York and in Missouri, New York’s top judge is calling for an overhaul of the system.

Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman called the grand jury system a “relic of another time,” and said that the way it has worked so far has led to a perception that prosecutors are unable to objectively present evidence to grand juries.

“Such perceptions, while broad brush, clearly can undermine public trust and confidence in the justice system,” Lippman said during his annual State of the Judiciary address, according to Newsday. “To me, it is obvious that we need significant change in grand jury practices and protocols in the world we live today.”

Of course, Lippman was talking after two separate grand juries refused to charge white police officers who played a role in the death of two black men — Eric Garner in New York and Michael Brown in Ferguson.

According to the Times Union in Albany, Lippman proposed making two big changes to the system: First judges — not prosecutors — should oversee grand juries weighing police-related deaths and second, he said the testimony heard by the grand jury should be released in cases of “high public interest.”

Newsday adds:

“Lippman’s proposals would have to be approved by state lawmakers. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has said he will push grand jury and criminal justice changes in the 2015 legislative session.

“Currently, judges nominally oversee the grand jury process by giving preliminary instructions to the jurors before hearing cases. Lippman wants a judge ‘physically present in the grand jury room’ to provide legal rulings, ask questions of witnesses, preclude inadmissible evidence and provide final instructions before a jury deliberates — though the judge wouldn’t vote.”

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