Appendix 2 - Procedures for Conducting Inquests
Appendix 2 of PHL-7-1-2-EO, Conducting Inquests in King County, October 3, 2018.
If an inquest is to be held, the King County administrator shall conduct the review in accordance with these procedures.
1.1. The inquest is an administrative hearing intended to be a fact-finding, non-adversarial process. However, the King County Superior Court administers the jury process and maintains facilities appropriate to comfortably support a jury. Therefore, where requested by the County Executive, the Superior Court will coordinate with the manager to provide persons to serve as a jury of inquest (“panel”) and secure appropriate facilities. The manager shall arrange the room in a manner that promotes transparency to the public and fair treatment of all participating parties.
2.0. PARTICIPATING PARTIES
2.1. The family of the deceased, who shall be allowed to have an attorney(s) present.
2.2. The law enforcement member(s) involved in the death, who shall be allowed to have an attorney(s) present, provided that the law enforcement member(s) elect(s) to participate in the inquest proceeding.
2.3. The employing government department, which shall be allowed to be represented by its statutory attorney or lawfully appointed designee.
2.4. The manager, who shall assign an administrator and a pro tem attorney to assist the administrator.
2.5. An administrator, who shall preside over the inquest.
3.0. ROLE OF THE ADMINISTRATOR/SCOPE OF THE INQUEST
3.1. An administrator shall conduct the inquest. The proceedings are quasi-judicial in nature, with represented parties, and the presentation of evidence through direct and cross-examination, and subject to the Rules of Evidence. Administrators shall strive to promote an atmosphere consistent with administrative fact-finding and shall strive to minimize delay, cost, and burden to participants, while promoting fair and open proceedings. Although an inquest is not a court proceeding, administrators shall be guided by open courts principles and GR 16.
3.2. The administrator, after consultation with the participating parties, shall determine the inquest scope. Consistent with the purpose as set forth in the amended Charter, Executive Order, and Appendix 1 and 2, the inquest scope shall include an inquiry into and the panel shall make findings regarding the cause, manner, and circumstances of the death, including applicable law enforcement agency policy. The panel shall make findings regarding whether the law enforcement officer complied with applicable law enforcement agency training and policy as they relate to the death.
3.3. The Rules of Evidence shall generally apply, but may be supplemented and/or modified by additional rules governing administrative proceedings, at the discretion of the administrator. The administrator shall construe the Rules of Evidence in a manner consistent with the goal of administrative fact-finding proceedings and to promote fairness and to minimize the delays, costs, and burdens that can be associated with judicial proceedings.
4.0. DISCOVERY AND ADMISSIBILITY OF EVIDENCE
4.1. Discoverable material shall be exchanged among: the administrator and any pro tem attorney; the attorney representing the family of the deceased; the attorney representing the jurisdiction employing the involved law enforcement member(s); and the attorney representing the involved law enforcement member(s).
4.2. Discovery materials are to be used by the attorneys solely for the inquest proceeding. Such materials include the police and/or agency investigative file of the incident that resulted in the death. They also include the report of the medical examiner, crime laboratory reports, and the names, addresses, and summaries and/or copies of statements of any witnesses obtained by any party.
4.3. In the event that confidential materials in the possession of any person or agency are sought for use in the inquest, the administrator, upon a prima facie showing of necessity, relevancy, and lack of an alternative source for the materials, shall examine the materials in camera. These materials may include, and the administrator shall have the discretion to consider the admissibility and use of, information that may be relevant to the incident. The legal representative of the person or agency in possession of the materials shall have the right to participate in the review of these materials.
4.4. The decedent’s criminal history may not be introduced into evidence unless the administrator first determines that: it is directly related to the reason for an arrest, detention, or use of force (e.g. officers were arresting an individual convicted of a felony who they believed was carrying a firearm); it served as the basis for an officer safety caution (or equivalent warning) that the member(s) of the law enforcement agency was aware of prior to any use of force; or other, contemporaneous knowledge of the individual’s criminal history was relevant to the actions the officer(s) took or how the officer(s) assessed whether the person posed a threat.
4.5. If decedent’s criminal history is admitted, it must be limited to the greatest extent possible. It may only include information both actually known to officer(s) at the time, and actually forming a basis for the decision to use deadly force or the tactics in approaching the individual. It may not include the specific crime of conviction, the nature of the crime (e.g. violent or nonviolent), the deceased’s incarceration history, or any other criminal charge, unless the administrator makes a specific finding of relevance to a contested issue in the inquest.
4.6. The disciplinary history of the law enforcement member(s) involved may not be introduced into evidence unless the administrator first determines that it is directly related to the use of force. If such information is admitted, it must be limited to the greatest extent possible.
4.7. Protective orders may be used to limit discovery, and the administrator may order the return of all discretionarily-ordered discovery.
5.0. SCHEDULE AND PRE-INQUEST CONFERENCE
5.1. It is in the best interests of affected parties and the community to hold the inquest in a timely manner. The manager and administrator will strive for timeliness and to limit unnecessary delays; extensions shall be limited and granted only upon a showing of good cause.
5.2. The manager and administrator shall schedule a pre-inquest conference with the participating parties and may hold additional conferences if necessary. The administrator will obtain proposed witness and exhibit lists, proposed panel instructions, and inquest time estimates, and will inquire whether any special needs such as interpreters are required. The conference shall be public unless compelling circumstances require an in camera hearing, in which case the administrator must make findings of fact and conclusions of law justifying such measures under Washington law.
5.3. The administrator shall solicit proposed stipulations of fact from the participating parties and work diligently to narrow the scope of inquiry at the inquest. The administrator shall share the stipulated facts with the panel at the start of the inquest.
5.4. The administrator shall instruct the panel at the start of the inquest.
5.5. The manager shall maintain a website publishing the schedule for the inquest, stipulated facts, inquest file and, where possible, inquest recordings.
6.0. PANEL POOL
The administrator shall select the panel from the regular Superior Court juror pool pursuant to RCW 36.24.020.
7.0. PANEL QUESTIONING (VOIR DIRE)
7.1. The administrator shall conduct voir dire, after consultation with the participating parties.
7.2. There is no set limit to the number of panelists the administrator may excuse. Panelists may be excused for cause and/or because serving on the inquest panel will present a hardship.
8.0. PANEL QUESTIONS FOR PARTICIPANTS
After all parties have had an opportunity to examine a witness, panelists are allowed to submit questions to the administrator that the panel wishes to pose to the witness. After consultation with the parties, the administrator shall determine whether to submit a question to the witness and the manner of the submission.
The manager shall ensure that the inquest proceedings are audio recorded and that the audio recordings are made accessible to the public to the greatest extent consistent with GR 16.
10.0. MEDIA GUIDELINES
Consistent with Section 9, above, the administrator shall make the proceedings available to the public and to the media, this includes video and audio recording and still photography.
11.0. ORDER OF PRESENTATION OF EVIDENCE
11.1. There shall be no opening statements by the parties. The judge’s introduction will include an instruction in substantially the following form: “You have been empaneled as members of a coroner’s panel in the inquest. This is not a trial. The purpose of the inquest is to provide public inquiry into the causes and circumstances surrounding the death of [decedent]. It is not the purpose of this inquest to determine the criminal or civil liability of any person or agency. Your role will be to hear the evidence and answer questions according to instructions given to you at the close of the proceedings. The pro tem staff attorney’s role is solely to assist the administrator in presenting the evidence. As administrator I have determined who will be called as witnesses and the issues which you will be asked to consider.”
11.2. The administrator through the pro tem attorney has the first opportunity to introduce witnesses and evidence. The parties may then each introduce their own witnesses and evidence.
11.3. The administrator, after consultation with the parties, decides the order of presentation of evidence and witnesses. The administrator may direct that the pro tem attorney conduct the initial examination of each witness.
11.4. The administrator shall make rulings on the admissibility of evidence and testimony based on the Rules of Evidence and these procedures.
12.0. WITNESSES AND TESTIMONY
12.1. Each party, including the administrator, through the pro tem staff attorney, may proffer its own witnesses to provide testimony that aids the panel in the understanding of the facts, including factual areas of experts (e.g. ballistics and forensic medical examination).
12.2. The administrator shall base rulings on the admissibility of such testimony on the proposed witness’s qualifications, the Rules of Evidence, and these procedures. Testimony regarding changes that should be made to existing policy, procedure, and training is not permitted.
12.3. The employing government department shall designate an official(s) to provide a comprehensive overview of the forensic investigation into the incident (e.g., statements collected by investigators, investigators’ review of forensic evidence, physical evidence collected by investigators, etc.). Additionally, the chief law enforcement officer of the involved agency or director of the employing government department shall provide testimony concerning applicable law enforcement agency training and policy as they relate to the death but may not comment on whether employees’ actions related to the death were pursuant to training and policy; or any conclusions about whether the employee’s actions were within policy and training.
12.4. The inquest is intended to be a transparent process to inform the public of the circumstances of the death of a person that involved a representative of government. As such, there is a strong presumption against the exclusion of witnesses until after their testimony, and relevant, non-cumulative witnesses should only be excluded by the administrator in exceptional circumstances.
12.5. At the conclusion of the testimony, the administrator will solicit from the pro tem attorney and/or from the participating parties additional submissions of proposed stipulated facts. The administrator will determine which, if any, proposed stipulated facts should be submitted to the panel.
13.0. STATEMENTS OF SUMMATION
The pro tem attorney and the participating parties may offer statements of summation only if preapproved by the administrator in consultation with the parties. Statements must be consistent with the fact-finding purpose of the inquest and must not suggest conclusions of law or bear on fault.
14.0. PANEL QUESTIONS
14.1. After the conclusion of testimony, each party shall submit to the administrator proposed questions for the panel. After consultation with the parties, the administrator shall determine which questions are within the scope of the inquest and should be submitted to the panel. Prior to the statements of summation, the administrator shall provide the panel with the list of questions.
14.2. The inquest administrator shall give written instructions to the panel and shall submit questions to be answered, subject to the limitations of Section 3 (above) and keeping in mind the purpose of an inquest. The administrator shall instruct the panel that it may not comment on fault, or on justification—including the mental state of the involved officer(s), such as whether the officer thought the decedent posed a threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer(s)—or on the criminal or civil liability of a person or agency.
14.3. Beyond these limitations, the panel shall not be confined to the stipulated facts, but may consider any testimony or evidence presented during the inquest proceeding. In answering any question, the panel may not consider any information learned outside of the inquest.
14.4. Questions submitted to the panel must provide three response options: “yes,” “no,” and “unknown.” A panelist shall respond “yes” when the panelist believes a preponderance of the evidence supports responding to the question in the affirmative. A panelist shall respond “no” when the panelist believes a preponderance of the evidence supports responding to the question in the negative. A panelist shall respond “unknown” if either (1) the weight of the evidence equally supports responding to the question in the affirmative and the negative or (2) not enough evidence was presented to allow the panelist to answer the question in the affirmative or the negative.
14.5. The panel shall deliberate and panelists shall exchange their interpretations of the evidence. However, the panel need not reach unanimity and each panelist shall be instructed to answer the questions individually.
14.6. After every question, each panelist shall have the opportunity to provide a written explanation of the panelist’s answer. The administrator shall direct each panelist that the panelist need only provide a written explanation when the panelist believes that a written explanation would provide information helpful in explaining or interpreting the panelist’s answer.
15.1. The manager shall transmit the panel’s findings to the County Executive.
15.2. The manager shall ensure the findings and recommendations are published on its website along with the inquest recording.
16.0. ANNUAL REVIEW
16.1. The manager shall submit a report to the County Executive at the end of each year on the operations of inquests.
16.2. The County Executive will call for a periodic review of the inquest process by an independent review committee to determine if the inquest process is conforming to updated laws and adequately meeting the principles of transparency, community engagement, and respect for all those involved in the inquest process.