Commentary on the Michael Brown shooting death strongly suggests that most people don’t understand Grand Jury proceedings. In the context of the Brown shooting, this article discusses one aspect of the Grand Jury proceeding: what standard of proof does a Grand Jury use to determine if it should return an indictment. You can find a more thorough discussion of Grand Jury proceedings here.
Reportedly, Sol Wachtler, the former New York State chief judge, said a grand jury would indict a ham sandwich if the prosecutor requests it. Conversely, Michael Brown’s supporters believe the Ferguson Grand Jury will not indict Officer Wislon for murdering Michael Brown because of the biases of the local top prosecutor, Bob McCulloch. Understandably, Michael Brown’s supporters have difficulty grasping why the criminal justice system has not charged, arrested and indicted Officer Darren Wilson for murdering Michael Brown when multiple disinterested eyewitnesses have given corroborating and incriminating testimony against Officer Wilson.
Wilson’s supporters seem to be the most confused about Grand Juries. They apparently don’t understand the very limited role of the Grand Jury. Its only duty is to decide if there’s probable cause to return an indictment so the case can move forward. And probable cause merely requires enough facts and circumstances that would cause a reasonable mind to believe a person probably violated the law.
Additionally, the Grand Jury is not the trier of facts. It doesn’t decide guilt or innocence. A regular jury at trial, using the much higher standard of beyond a reasonable doubt, is the trier of facts tasked with deciding guilt or innocence. Hence, the Grand Jury can return an indictment based on probable cause even where there’s some doubt or dispute of facts.
That said, you might be wondering whether there is enough probable cause for the Ferguson Grand Jury to indict Officer Wilson for murdering Michael Brown? Absolutely! There’s probable cause based merely on the testimony of multiple disinterested eyewitnesses who saw Officer Wilson shoot Michael Brown at a distance of approximately 25-30 feet while Michael Brown’s hands were up in a surrender position. Again, that doesn’t mean that Officer Wilson is indeed guilty of murder but it’s enough evidence to allow the case to move forward to trial. In fact, that was enough evidence to arrest Officer Wilson from day one. Trust me, if Michael Brown’s shooter was not a police officer and shot Michael Brown under similar facts and circumstances, the DA would’ve had him arrested and indicted right away. Many people in Ferguson believe there’s been no arrest or indictment of Wilson heretofore because of the aforementioned biases of Mr. McCulloch. They reasonably believe that Mr. McCulloch is biased toward Officer Wilson because a black man killed Mr. McCulloch’s father who was also a police officer.
In conclusion, the Ferguson Grand Jury is tasked only with deciding if there’s probable cause to allow the case to move forward. And once again, there certainly is sufficient probable cause for the indictment and arrest of Officer Wilson. Justice for Michael Brown demands no less!