Ferguson, Missouri, thanks to the Darren Wilson/Michael Brown grand jury’s no indictment decision, remains national front-page news, and it’s going to stay that way for some time.
Earlier this past week, I posted my own opinion of that decision on a local forum. I agreed with the grand jury’s findings. But my agreement was based solely on the data—and its method of delivery—presented to the jury, as well as the way in which Missouri’s lethal force statute is written.
But, due to space restrictions on that forum, I didn’t have the room to state my criticism, and justify it, of the way in which the entire affair was carried out. It’s one thing to conduct a grand jury; it’s quite something else to bastardize the process entirely.
Had those proceedings been conducted in the normal manner, that grand jury would have voted to indict Wilson.
In the huge number of grand juries convened over the past 10-years alone, such juries have failed to indict in only 0.0067% of the cases. And Just for emphasis, that’s sixty-seven TEN THOUSANDS of ONE percent!
Personally, it would have been legally cleaner had McCulloch—the county attorney—charged Wilson, thus giving him the right to defend himself in a PUBLIC preliminary hearing by cross-examining the witnesses against him.
At preliminary hearings the witnesses are still under oath, except that the testimony presented is scrutinized by BOTH sides of the issue, and a JUDGE would have ruled as to whether sufficient probable cause existed to proceed to a full blown trial.
As it turned out, the way in which this one was conducted simply failed to pass the “smell” test, legal or otherwise.
And, among myriad other things, a prime stand-out example of this was when someone accused of shooting an unarmed individual VOLUNTEERED to spend four hours giving un-cross-examined testimony to a grand jury without a lawyer present and without a single mention of Fifth Amendment RIGHTS.
Is it just me; or did you get a whiff of that odor, too?
Here’s the way it normally works; a prosecutor presents evidence over a short period. It ends with that prosecutor asking for an indictment. And, as shown above, an indictment usually follows.
Whether a grand jury indicts or not, NEVER constitutes a verdict or an acquittal. A grand jury needs only probable cause to believe that a suspect has committed a crime. But it’s not proof beyond a reasonable doubt, a prime requirement for a conviction at a criminal trial.
However, over a period of three full months, the county attorneys in this case presented THE WHOLE THING (all of its testimony, every supporting document, and every witness) to a jury panel without so much of a shred of that the testimony being subjected to cross-examination.
There it is AGAIN! Now don’t tell me you didn’t smell it.
In this case, a grand jury—comprised of everyday citizens—was left to act as judge (trier of law) and jury (trier of fact). WHEW, the odor seems to be getting stronger.
Its members had to sift through mountains of evidence without even a little bit of legal guidance—whether the evidence would have been admissible in a criminal trial or not.
Transcript evidence shows, without question, that there was no shortage of leading questions by prosecutors aimed at Wilson, himself. And the same transcripts show detailed challenges aimed squarely at anyone who disputed his side of the story.
OK, say what you want, but that smell is getting REALLY bad!
For people who don’t know it, grand jury proceedings are conducted in secret. There’s no judge present. Only the grand jury members, witnesses, and the prosecutors seeking an indictment are present.
But this grand jury proceeding was way different in terms of its length, in terms of the way evidence was presented, the number of favorable leading questions posed to Wilson by those prosecutors, and the hostility with which they questioned EVERYONE who contradicted Wilson’s version of the story.
It stinks; it really STINKS!
I don’t question—not for a second—that Michael Brown was probably high on weed (the autopsy showed it in his system when he died), that he was confrontational as hell toward Officer Wilson, that he had earlier strong-armed a retailer out of some cigars, or that a scuffle ensued. Nor do I question Officer Wilson’s right to have been angry over all of it, and to have retaliated with added aggressiveness.
On the other hand, I don’t doubt that Wilson let his emotions get the best of him, the very thing that sworn police officers are NOT supposed to do. That whatever took place at the point of his patrol car shook him up to the point that his reason went completely south, and he killed Brown unnecessarily.
Again, McCulloch—at least in my opinion—completely misused the grand jury. But unlike many others, I’ll not accuse him of malfeasance—even though its odor is all over the place.
Let me simply say—in light of the inevitable controversy generated virtually every time a police officer (white or otherwise, but especially white) kills a person of color (black or otherwise, but especially black)—that prosecutors should opt for a public preliminary hearing rather than a grand jury to arrive at real justice.
Not only would doing so reduce the public’s dependency on the “smell” test, it would save us financial bundles by reducing our purchases of after-the-fact legal air fresheners!
Will someone please spray the place, the smell’s making me sick!