November 9, 2010

Changes proposed to coroner's inquest process

Following a spate of officer-involved shootings this year, a panel has recommended a series of changes to the coroner's inquest process that includes allowing family members to submit questions to witnesses and police officers on the stand.

It took more than five hours Monday night, but members of the Coroner’s Inquest Review Panel voted on recommendations for changes to the coroner’s inquest process.

The suggestions came after four meetings that saw plenty of debate about juries, verdicts and the possible merits and disadvantages of an adversarial process – letting attorneys cross-examine witnesses and police officers.

Perhaps the biggest change came with the panel’s recommendation that attorneys for both police officers and the decedent’s family participate in the process by submitting questions to an ombudsman, an independent party that would question witnesses and police officers on the stand.

In addition, the jury would be referred to as the "inquest panel" and it would continue to determine facts rather than render verdicts.

Also, encouragingly, the panel recommended that video and transcripts of the inquest be available online as soon as possible.

These changes are designed to assure the public that the inquest process isn't biased in favor of the police, which is necessary to maintain faith in the police department.

To take effect, the Clark County Commission has to approve the recommendations. The changes will be presented to the county commission on November 16th and the commission will vote on December 7th.

We will let you know how it turns out.