The New York Civil Liberties Union yesterday submitted a formal application to the judge who oversaw the Grand Jury proceedings in the chokehold death of Eric Garner asking for the public release of the Grand Jury proceedings transcript, as well as the evidence presented and instructions given to the jury. The NYCLU’s application specifically requests that any personally identifiable information about the jurors, witnesses and employees of the office of the Staten Island District Attorney be redacted.
“The failure to indict the officer responsible for the death of Eric Garner after the incident was clearly recorded on video has severely damaged the ability of much of the public to trust the criminal justice system and has left many wondering if black lives even matter,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “The outcome of Grand Jury proceeding has left many questions as to whether secret grand jury proceedings are instruments of injustice and whether the grand jury system should be abolished. The Garner Grand Jury is central to that public discussion. And it is important to that conversation for the public to know how and why the Grand Jury reached the conclusions that it did.”
A cloak of secrecy typically envelopes grand juries to prevent the flight of a person prior to indictment, to protect people who are the targets of investigations from stigma until and unless they are indicted, to protect jurors and witnesses from interference and retaliation. These concerns are either inapplicable in this case or alleviated by redacting all personally identifiable information, the NYCLU argues in its request.
The judge initially sealed the application for release of the transcript over the NYCLU’s objections, and the NYCLU took steps to challenge the constitutionality of the sealing order. But today the judge unsealed the application in light of a ruling in another case by the Appellate Division that the transcript request application should not be sealed.