The Huffington Post recently published an article written by Attorney Steven
Brill that discusses the role of the grand jury in the headline-making
Ferguson and Staten Island cases. In both cases, the actions of white
police officers resulted in the deaths of unarmed black men. The grand
jury decisions to not indict police officers for the deaths of Michael
Brown and Eric Garner have resulted in demonstrations across the country
regarding race equality.
While the racial implications of these incidents—such as habitual
profiling and mistreatment of black men by police—have been discussed
at length, Attorney Brill expressed discomfort with the role of grand
jury in the process.
Attorney Brill believes both of these cases reveal the DA's atypical
presentation and biased in favor of the police officers in connection
with the presentation of evidence to the grand jury. This process is guided
heavily by the prosecutor and is fairly one-sided. The prosecutor's
arguments in the grand jury stage have an enormous implication on the
outcome of a case. In a grand jury, there is a lower standard for the
prosecutor than at a trial. As a result, the overwhelming majority of
criminal charges—well over 95 percent—move on to trial.
In New York, all felony charges have to go through a grand jury. In the
case of the shooting of Staten Island resident Eric Garner, the jury decided
upon "no true bill," a technical term for "no indictment".
The grand jury made this decision despite video evidence of the incident,
which showed a police officer restraining Mr. Garner with a chokehold,
even after hearing him gasp that he couldn't breathe.
In the article Attorney Brill explains that throughout his 20 years of
legal experience in New York, he can "count on one hand" how
many of his own cases resulted in a "no true bill", and further
explained that cases involving a death with no indictment are an anomaly.
From Attorney Brill's viewpoint, the district attorney in the Ferguson
case sounded more like a criminal defense attorney during his press conference
on the grand jury decision, rather than a prosecutor trying to seek a
criminal charge. Normally, the district attorney would explain that a
grand jury that reached a "no true bill" decision had made an
error in judgment, but the Ferguson D.A. did no such thing.
Attorney Brill explains in the Huffington Post article that the closeness
of law enforcement and the District Attorney's Office can affect the
way the grand jury process treats a case involving a police officer, which
can strip justice away from victims. Had either of these crimes been committed
by a civilian, the outcome would have likely been very different.
Read Attorney Brill's article in the Huffington Post:
The Grand Jury When It Comes to Ferguson and Staten Island
Steven Brill is a criminal defense attorney at Sullivan & Brill, LLP in New York.
Attorney Brill has aggressively defended the rights of New Yorkers since
1994, when he began his legal career as a public defender. During his
career Attorney Brill has achieved an impressive record against both State
and Federal prosecutor's offices and has served as lead counsel in
more than 50 trials.
Contact Sullivan & Brill, LLP if you need effective defense in New York City.