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Grand Jury Got It Right In Ferguson

by | Nov 25, 2014

Grand Jury Got It Right In Ferguson

On Monday, November 24, 2014, a Missouri Grand Jury issued its decision that there was insufficient evidence to indict Officer Darren Wilson for his August 9, 2014 officer involved shooting of Michael Brown.  The Grand Jury’s decision was much anticipated but in reality, this wasn’t even close.
Remember the purpose of the Grand Jury in a criminal proceeding.  The Grand Jury hears and reviews evidence to determine if there is any evidence to support an indictment.  All the Grand Jury is trying to determine is to whether there is probable cause to allow a criminal case to move forward.  This is a very low standard.  And as a practical matter, it doesn’t take much evidence for a Grand Jury to indict.  This is especially true in a high profile case involving rioting in the streets and provocative commentary from the most powerful man in the world, the President of the United States.  Over the last twenty five years I’ve worked with dozens and dozens of state and local Grand Juries on criminal indictments.  And I’ve come to what I believe are very accurate observations:
First, when remotely possible, Grand Juries will indict police officers.
Second, there is immense psychological pressure for the Grand Jury (and the prosecution) to indict the officer because that decision simply passes the buck along to the next step in the criminal review process – a trial.  It’s the easiest decision in the world to indict a defendant, (particularly) a police officer, and let a jury decide the case.  That way, the Grand Jury and the prosecution are insulated from criticism.
Third, and finally, Grand Jury can consider hearsay and other evidence that would never be admissible in other legal proceedings.  This means that the Grand Jury gets a much more comprehensive view of the case.  And, the Grand Jury can consider that hearsay and other unreliable evidence in making its decision to indict.
So, the Michael Brown/Officer Darren Wilson case was not even close.  Had the Grand Jury had any evidence to support an indictment, I believe they would have done so.  The fact that they Grand Jury did not indict Officer Wilson shows the educated reader that this office involved shooting was completely justified.


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