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AG Neronha renews call for grand jury reporting law

The Attorney General will testify before the House Judiciary Committee tonight at 7 p.m. in support of his proposed legislation to allow grand juries, in limited circumstances, to issue reports when in the public interest

PROVIDENCE, RI For the third time since taking office, Attorney General Peter F. Neronha has proposed legislation that would allow a grand jury, with court oversight, to issue a report with findings and recommendations even when it decides no one should be charged with a crime. At least 18 other states, including New York, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Colorado, have laws that allow grand juries to issue reports even when no indictment is returned.

"Transparency in the criminal justice system is incredibly important," said Attorney General Neronha. "There are times, such as cases involving police use of force, when the public would benefit from understanding what the grand jury learned during its investigation and why it chose not to return an indictment.

"The grand jury plays an essential role in the criminal justice system, and grand jury secrecy is important to preserve the integrity of ongoing investigations and protect the due process rights of the accused. At times, however, there are matters of great public importance that come before the grand jury and on those rare occasions there is great value in lifting the shroud of secrecy. Such secrecy can breed cynicism and ultimately, distrust," he continued. "This bill isn't a cure, but I believe being able to share some insight into matters of great public concern can be an important step toward gaining public trust and improving public policies. Right now, there's just no opportunity to do that."

The bill, introduced by Representative Evan Shanley (D-24, Warwick), on behalf of the Attorney General, sets forth the circumstances and procedural safeguards that must be in place before the grand jury can issue a report.

The process outlined in the proposed legislation requires the consent of at least 12 jurors (the same number of jurors required to bring an indictment); any individual or entity named in the report is given advance notice and provided an opportunity to object or have information redacted; and any individual or entity named in the report has the right to appeal the court's decision.

"It's not a tool that should be used in every case," said Attorney General Neronha. "But it's a tool that should be in the toolbox."

"In the legislative branch of government, it's well known that secrecy breeds public mistrust," said Representative Shanley. "Well, the same thing applies to the judicial branch. Opening up grand juries to reporting and greater transparency will help people to understand exactly how everything works. When the public has a greater understanding of the criminal justice process, everybody wins."

The bill is sponsored by: Representative Evan Shanley (D-24, Warwick) Representative Robert E. Craven (D-32, North Kingstown), Representative Jean Philippe Barros (D-59, Pawtucket), and Representative Gregg Amore (D-65, East Providence).

Members of the public can watch tonight's hearing at 7 p.m. on Capitol TV (Verizon ch. 34 or Cox ch. 15, 61, 1061) or online here: http://ritv.devosvideo.com/show?video=36dfd9ec1fc1

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