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Your Guide to California’s New Police Laws

Posted in Police on January 29, 2016

As of late 2015, California has two new laws regarding police shooting cases and police recordings. Both pieces of legislation were passed in light of the civil unrest and attention to police misconduct around the country. Here’s what you need to know:

1. It’s now illegal for the state to use secretive grand juries to indict police officers.

In two high-profile cases in the country—Ferguson, MO and Staten Island, NY—people around the country were incensed to learn that the officers involved in fatal shootings wouldn’t be indicted for their actions. Ferguson in particular started a wave of suspicion in every state regarding police accountability.

Many citizens feel sealed court proceedings create an unfair safety net for officers. This new law will prevent secretive grand jury proceedings from taking place in the state. Court records in cases of police misconduct will now be a matter of public record. Under the law, a prosecutor can decide to charge a law enforcement officer with unreasonable use of deadly force. State residents hope this change will lead to increased transparency throughout the criminal justice system.

Police officers have the right to use deadly force in justifiable situations. If the court system decides a deadly shooting was justifiable, the public will now know exactly why that decision was made. California is the first state to pass a piece of legislation banning “Ferguson juries.”

How Do Grand Juries Work?

Grand juries aren’t convened to determine whether a criminal activity was committed in a case. Instead, they’re proceedings that decide if there’s enough case evidence available to warrant a criminal indictment. If so, the criminal case moves into a public forum.

However, during historical grand jury proceedings involving police, all of the information from the reports was sealed. The public got a yes or no answer but may never find out what happened during a fatal shooting. Often, understanding why something happened is enough to allay concerns of misconduct.

2. Is it okay for residents to film or record police activities in public places?

As a result of the increased perception of police misconduct, many residents started using their smartphones, GoPros, and other recording devices to visually document interactions with police. For a while, police officers identified the act as an obstruction of justice. They arrested those filming or asked them to stop.

This law confirms that a police officer has no right to stop a resident from filming or photographing police actions in public locations. Legislators believe this clarifying rule reinforces Californians’ First Amendment rights. Furthermore, recording interactions can help the state hold officers accountable and reduce incidents of police misconduct at every level.

What Do These Laws Mean for You?

If you’re approached by the police for an investigation during a stop or in a public space, these laws should offer some added protection from potential acts of police misconduct. Recording a police interaction is a good way to hold a police officer accountable at a later date, particularly if an officer discharges his or her firearm. However, the evidence in recordings works both ways. If the footage features incriminating evidence of your involvement in illegal activities, the court may use it against you.

Police officers aren’t above the law, and this new legislation helps make that fact clear. Now every individual accused of criminal activities will face the same criminal justice process. If you face any type of police misconduct during an exchange, contact the Law Offices of Graham Donath, APC. We understand how modern technology and the current laws affect criminal justice proceedings in California, and we’ll fight to protect your rights.