The recent failure of grand juries in two different parts of the country to indict police officers accused of killing suspects has many people questioning whether the grand jury system needs to be changed. WGRZ-TV’s Claudia Ewing asked well-known Buffalo criminal defense and constitutional law attorney Barry Covert of Lipsitz Green to weigh in.
Click here for the interview.
Mr. Covert agreed that the system may need to be altered and noted that “because it’s the same district attorney who has to deal with the same police department on an everyday, all-day basis—and ask the police union for campaign contributions when they’re up for re-election—it seems to be that there’s a conflict of interest, or at least the appearance of it, when a police officer is the target.”
“We need to take it out of that realm,” he said. “We need a neutral prosecutor to be brought in when police officers are the target.”
John Elmore, another criminal defense attorney interviewed for the broadcast, agreed, pointing out that police and prosecutors “work on cases together.”
According to Mr. Covert, “Ninety-nine percent of the time, the district attorney is appearing in front of a grand jury with police officers to try to prosecute a non-law enforcement person, and they often get an indictment.”
“Transparency should really result in a special prosecutor or a neutral individual or an attorney general coming in for any case where a police officer is the target,” recommended Mr. Covert.
In both of the recent national cases garnering widespread attention where grand juries failed to indict police officers in cases where suspects were killed, the officers were white and the men apprehended by them who died were black.
Mr. Covert said, “When you have the perception from the outside, the non-legal community, that this is only happening in cases where there are police officer defendants who are usually white and a victim is usually a minority, then you have a perception that the process is broken down.”
The report also quoted comments made by Governor Andrew Cuomo on NBC’s Today Show last week: “It’s a long string of events that we’ve seen in this country that suggests that the justice system, which is the bedrock of democracy, a justice system that is colorblind, where you have a large number of people in this country who don’t believe that is the case. There is a belief by some that there are two justice systems.” He continued, “The perception is the problem, and that’s what we want to start to address here in New York.”
Mr. Covert is known for his aggressive representation of clients in the areas of New York State and federal criminal trials and appeals; constitutional law, including First Amendment, civil rights actions, and federal False Claims Act; defending against allegations of scientific misconduct and fraud, research misconduct and fraud, plagiarism, and fabrication of evidence; and professional licensing defense.