June 2, 2021
Assembly Passes Legislation to Advance Transparency in Grand Jury Proceedings
Speaker Carl Heastie and Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell today announced the Assembly has passed legislation that would facilitate additional involvement of the court and increase transparency in grand jury proceedings (A.5845, O’Donnell).
“When grand jury proceedings are permanently shrouded in secrecy, the public is left in the dark and trust in the system is eroded,” said Speaker Heastie. “This has become increasingly problematic in cases involving fatal police encounters when public trust is already compromised. This legislation would offer the public transparency in the handling of sensitive cases.”
“We can't reach justice without accountability. Closed door grand jury proceedings breed distrust, especially in high profile cases involving an officer who has killed a civilian,” said Assemblymember O’Donnell. “When we repealed 50a last year, we affirmed that the public has a right to know when officials are accused of misconduct. Today, we take an additional step forward by empowering New Yorkers to petition the courts for the charges and evidence prosecutors present to grand juries. For too long, our justice system has failed to deliver results for New Yorkers, especially communities of color, and grand jury secrecy has prevented the public from knowing if justice is even being pursued. I am proud of this legislation, which will bring light and transparency to grand juries and ensure that our justice system truly works for all New Yorkers. I thank my colleagues for their support and Speaker Heastie for his dedication to this important issue.”
Under the bill, in proceedings involving a defendant where the grand jury does not bring an indictment for a felony charge, certain information would be available for release to the public, including the criminal charges submitted, legal instructions given to the grand jury, testimony of expert witnesses, testimony of public servants who testified in an official capacity, and the testimony of other witnesses with redactions as needed to protect their identity and personal data. Both the district attorney and the person against whom charges were presented would be able to appear and be heard in support of or in opposition to any application for release of such information and records.
Today’s legislation would also authorize a judge of a superior court to be present in the grand jury room, except during deliberations and voting by the grand jury.