House bill could change how state handles cases involving law enforcement
ATLANTA, Georgia (41NBC/WMGT) – A local state lawmaker believes her bill will restore the public’s trust in the legal system by changing how the state handles cases where someone was injured or died by the hand of a law enforcement officer.
“This bill is simply starting the conversation and this conversation needs to be had,” State Representative Nikki Randall said.
It is a conversation Randall believes will restore the community’s faith in the judicial system.
“We want to restore trust in our judicial system among our state, amongst the citizens in our state. And i think there’s a problem.”
Randall says the problem is how the state handles cases where someone was injured or was killed by law enforcement. She filed House Bill 37 this year in light of the controversies in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City. There is also a similar situation in Middle Georgia after a man was fatally shot by a Laurens County Sheriff’s deputy last September.
“It’s giving us an opportunity to be proactive, looking at if our system is open and transparent and is it non-biased,” Randall said.
According to the bill, in these cases only the district attorney would be replaced by a special prosecutor and there would not be a grand jury. Instead, a judge would determine if there is probable cause.
“It brings in a neutral party that can be open and someone that can look at it with fresh eyes without any ties to that community, but with judicial knowledge that is needed to make those decisions,” Randall said.
Opponents to Randall’s bill say there is already a system in place to handle these kinds of situations.
“There’s a process right now where a district attorney can determine if they have a conflict of interest, they can notify the attorney general, and another attorney will be appointed to represent,” Chuck Spahos, the executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia, said.
Spahos says district attorneys are an elected position and do not work for law enforcement. He adds his agency is currently working more than 200 conflict pending cases from other prosecutors.
Spahos believes they are more than capable of investigating and prosecuting these cases.
“To do a blanket where you’re automatically conflicted out of any case which a district attorney may have given advice to an agency, that’s just over broad and quite frankly over burdensome,” he said.
For Randall, it all comes down to one belief.
“If you really believe in something we all should believe in and that’s justice, fairness for all, then we should have a conversation.”
Randall says she reached out to her opponents to get their thoughts on the bill, but hasn’t heard back. Spahos says he is willing to work with the lawmaker and make improvements to the piece of legislation.
The bill has been assigned to the Judiciary Non-Civil committee. Randall says she is waiting for a subcommittee hearing, but no date as to when that is scheduled.