Grand Juries and Police Use-of-Force Cases

Associate Professor Jonathan Witmer-Rich of the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law published an article titled Restoring the Independence to the Grand Jury: A Victim Advocate for Police Use of Force Cases in the most recent edition of the Cleveland State Law Review. His article is an effort to address the recent mistrust of the grand jury process by some members of the public.

The abstract to the article states:

This Article proposes a grand jury victim advocate to represent the interests of the complainant before the grand jury in investigations into police use of excessive force. Currently, the prosecutor has near-exclusive access to the grand jury, and as a result, grand juries have become almost entirely dependent on prosecutors. Historically, however, grand juries exhibited much greater independence. In particular, grand juries have a long history in America of providing oversight over government officials, bringing criminal charges for official misconduct even when local prosecutors proved reluctant. Permitting the alleged victim of police excessive force to be represented before the grand jury would ensure that the grand jury hears from a representative whose interests are truly aligned with the complainant rather than the police. This addition would give the grand jurors an ability to rediscover and reclaim the tradition of independence, and to provide democratic oversight over cases of alleged police misconduct.

This Article will address the role of the prosecutor and the grand jury in police use of deadly force cases with a view toward American jurisdictions generally, but with a particular focus on Ohio law and recent events in Cleveland, most notably the grand jury proceeding following the shooting of twelve-year-old Tamir Rice on November 22, 2014.