New York State Assembly Passes O’Donnell Bill to End Grand Jury Secrecy

NEW YORK—Today, the New York State Assembly passed legislation (A5845/ S3314) sponsored by Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell and State Senator Jamaal Bailey that allows for the release of grand jury records, creating transparency and accountability in grand jury proceedings. The bill gives judges the authority to release essential information about the proceedings, including the criminal charges submitted by a prosecutor or district attorney; the legal instructions provided to the grand jury; and the testimony of public servants and experts. The legislation allows the public new access to highly public cases, increasing trust in the system and ensuring that public prosecutors are truly pursuing justice in our courts.

Assembly Member O’Donnell said: “Our justice system is far from equal. Grand juries almost always return indictments, except in cases where police officers are accused of taking the life of a Black or brown person. From Eric Garner to Breonna Taylor to Daniel Prude — we have seen the same story play out too many times. Despite clear public evidence of misconduct and wrongdoing, charges against an officer are dropped in the secrecy of a grand jury.

“As a former public defender, I know that we can’t reach accountability without transparency. But you don’t need to work in the legal system to see how secrecy erodes public confidence in the application of the law. How can the public believe that prosecutors made a good faith effort to present a case when we don’t know how the relevant law was explained to jurors, what evidence the jurors heard, or how public officials testified? Absent any publicly available information, we can’t even know what charges the state pursued.

“I am proud of this legislation, which brings light and transparency to grand juries, and ensures that our justice system truly works for all New Yorkers. Today we build on the legacy of our vote to repeal 50a by rooting out the conditions that maintain systemic racism and police violence. I thank my colleagues for their support, and Speaker Heastie for his dedication on this important issue.”

This legislation was written shortly after a grand jury declined to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who killed Eric Garner. Even as videos of the murder circulated around the world, grand jury materials remained sealed. The bill reconciles the incongruities of withholding grand jury minutes to protect the privacy of the accused when the public already has easy access to evidence via video or social media and ensures the public can hold elected prosecutors accountable for pursuing the case appropriately. Its passage comes just two months after NY Judge Karen Bailey Turner released transcripts from the grand jury investigation into the death of Daniel Prude — the first time in state history that proceedings were made public.