By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - California will no longer assign grand juries to investigate most deaths of people killed by police under a law signed this week by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown.
The law was introduced in response to civil unrest in the wake of a Missouri grand jury's decision not to indict a white police officer in connection with the death of an unarmed black teenager last year.
“The use of the criminal grand jury process, and the refusal to indict, as occurred in Ferguson and other communities of color, has fostered an atmosphere of suspicion that threatens to compromise our justice system,” Mitchell said.
Because grand jury investigations are secret, she said, many members of the public may not trust their results.
Grand juries are already used only rarely to investigate killings involving the police in California, and several counties, including Los Angeles, have banned the practice.
Instead, they use the second route available to prosecutors, conducting their own investigations, charging the person if warranted and then presenting the evidence to a judge in a preliminary hearing.
The new law, which is set to take effect next year, only applies in cases where a person dies at the hands of a police officer during the course of an arrest or attempted arrest.
Grand juries could still investigate such a killing if a member of the grand jury who has personal knowledge of an incident and believes that an offense has been committed refers it to his or her colleagues.
The process by which grand juries deliberate in secret before deciding whether to indict someone for a crime is meant to protect the safety of witnesses and the privacy of the innocent in inflammatory or dangerous situations.
But skeptics worry that prosecutors who work closely with local police departments protect officers in the confines of the hearing room by offering only evidence that leads to exoneration.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Lisa Lambert)