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Editorial: Special Grand Juries For Police Still Bad Idea

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FOR THE RECORD: This editorial incorrectly reported that the state Supreme Court had ruled there is no constitutional authority for Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg to present police shootings to special investigative grand juries. It should have said the court granted a motion that called into question her constitutional and statutory authority to do so.

The Bernalillo County District Court this week informed Brandenburg that she could not reinstate the use of such grand juries, as she had planned. Among other reasons, the District Court said Brandenburg had not provided the court with legal authority for the proceedings.

Some officials just can’t take the hint.

Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg appears determined to resume the practice of presenting police shootings to special investigative grand juries, even though the state Supreme Court has ruled there is no constitutional authority for her to do so.

However, the high court did not specifically prohibit her from doing it. So taking that omission as permission, and after suspending the practice last spring — before her re-election — Brandenburg now is moving full steam ahead. She wants special court approval to start presenting 12 pending Albuquerque Police Department police-involved shooting cases.

But the judges are still unclear on the authority issue. “We still don’t understand what legal authority exists,” District Court Administrator Greg Ireland told the Journal. Even Brandenburg says the law is unclear, yet she wants to go back to a decades-long practice that she says has a proven track record. That track record is one that never found a single shooting by a police officer to be unjustified.

Used in place of in-house DA reviews, the system lets the DA, police chief and others in law enforcement off the hook from having to come down on officers they may later need to show up in court and help make their cases.

One defense attorney is suggesting that if the special grand juries are empaneled again, that families of victims of police-involved shootings have some say in what evidence is presented and that juries would be required to provide a more specific finding than just “justified” or “non justified.”

Both ideas would be improvements, but the special investigative grand jury system was an ineffectual practice and remains a bad idea. It should not be resumed.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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