What grand jury means for Darren Wilson in Michael Brown case

Makeshift memorial for Michael Brown

FERGUSION, Mo, August 20, 2014 —  The arrival today of Attorney General Eric Holder in Ferguson, Missouri is highly anticipated in the hope that it will bring legitimacy to the concerns of the protesters while bringing some calm to the area for the residents who have watched their already struggling community torn apart by the Michael Brown incident.

The hope is that Holder will be able to act as an intermediary between the police force, who recognize Holder as the highest law enforcement officer in America, and the African-American community who understand that Holder is one of the highest ranking black officials in the United States.

Holder has spoken publicly on his own person experiences with civil rights. He told an NAACP convention during the Trayvon Martin case that he had taught his son as a black male how to act and speak to police officers, the same talk his father had with him. He has also spoken about how his father was thrown out of a “white only” train car while wearing his Army uniform during World War II.

After a relatively calm night in Ferguson, Missouri, where police found no need to use tear gas against protests for the first time in almost a week.

Many of those protesters are heading for Clayton, Missouri today.

Today is the start of the Grand Jury in the Michael Brown case, and before they have even convened, protesters are gathering outside the prosecutor’s office.

There is an initial concern among the Brown supporters with the Missouri prosecutor overseeing the investigation as he is deeply associated with the police force. Bob McCulloch’s father, mother, brother, uncle and cousin have all worked for the St. Louis police and his father was killed in the line of duty by a black suspect in 1964.

McCulloch himself wanted to be a police officer but was disqualified after losing one of his legs to cancer.

Despite the fact that McCulloch is a long term prosecutor who has been re-elected every four years overwhelmingly since 1991, he is now a controversial figure. Calls for McCulloch to recues himself from this case likely lead to the convening of a Grand Jury rather than having a criminal complaint filed by the prosecution office.

Grand Jury vs. Trial Jury

Where a regular trial jury decides whether a person is guilty or innocent, a Grand Jury only needs to decide if there is enough evidence to move forward with a case against the person in question.

A prosecutor does not have to go through a grand jury at all; instead, he can file a criminal complaint against the suspect, but there are advantages to using a grand jury process.

Basically, a grand jury is a way for McCulloch to “pass the buck”. Since his bias has become such a concern, calling for a grand jury takes him out of the decision process of whether or not to bring charges without having to recues himself from the case.

There are 12 people who serve on a grand jury and the ones in this case are coming from St. Louis County.

A trial jury is chosen by attorneys, but grand juries are chosen by a judge. That is why a grand jury can be put together so quickly. Whereas attorneys spend a great deal of time eliminating prospective jurors who have heard of the case or who are not sympathetic to their side, a judge will not eliminate on these basis for a grand jury; therefore, almost everyone on today’s jury will have knowledge of the case before arriving in court. The judge will only excuse a juror if he believes that the perspective juror is biased.

This grand jury is a standing grand jury which serves for a three month period and meets once a week. They are not chosen specifically for a particular case.

Grand Jury proceedings are closed to the public. They are held in complete secrecy as opposed to the public hearing of a criminal complaint, but the Missouri District Attorney’s office has promised that if the grand jury comes back with the decision to not prosecute Officer Darren Wilson, he will release all of the information from the grand jury for public viewing.

Of the 12 jurors, only nine need to agree on a decision.

The grand jury will see photos, videos, crime scene evidence, autopsy reports and eyewitness accounts.

It is expected that Darren Wilson will testify at the grand jury. Not as the defendant but as an eyewitness to the crime.

There will be no cross examination of Wilson as there are no lawyers participating in a grand jury hearing, although anyone is allowed to leave the room to confer with their attorney during their testimony. Also, anything that Wilson says on the stand to a grand jury can be used against him in his trial if the grand jury votes to move forward.

No one representing Michael Brown or his family is expected to testify.

The hearing is purely about the actions of Wilson and no one from the Brown family was a witness to the crime.

If the grand jury decides to vote for Wilson to go to trial, he could be charged with murder, manslaughter or second degree murder.

A murder charge in the state of Missouri is when a person “knowingly causes the death of another person after deliberation upon the matter”.

Murder in the second degree in Missouri occurs when the defendant knowingly causes the death of another person or causes their death “with the purpose of causing serious physical injury” or Commits or attempts to commit any felony, and, in the perpetration or the attempted perpetration of such felony or in the flight from the perpetration or attempted perpetration of such felony, another person is killed as a result of the perpetration or attempted perpetration of such felony or immediate flight from the perpetration of such felony or attempted perpetration of such felony.

The office of the prosecutor has not disclosed how long the grand jury is likely to take to reach a decision.

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