aside DISCUSSION OF GRAND JURY SYSTEM AND FERGUSON EYE WITNESSES

 

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PBS News Hour created the above Ferguson grand jury witness chart for the Darren Wilson case which was posted on 11/25/2014 and with reporting by Ashira Morris, Adelyn Baxter, Ruth Tam and Travis Daub.

FERGtoles benefit of doubt

Partial PBS breakdown:

  • More than 50 percent of the witness statements said that Michael Brown held his hands up when Darren Wilson shot him.
  • More than half of the witness statements said that Brown was running away from Wilson when the police officer opened fire on the 18-year-old, while fewer than one-fifth of such statements indicated that was not the case.
  • There was an even split among witness statements that said whether or not Wilson fired upon Brown when the 18-year-old had already collapsed onto the ground.
  • Only six witness statements said that Brown was kneeling when Wilson opened fire on him. More than half of the witness statements did not mention whether or not Brown was kneeling.

BACKGROUND ON GRAND JURY HEARINGS:

images one man hands up..w police card 2 white folks w hands downThere are  major differences between a grand jury and a trial  jury. This distinction comes into play because the prosecutor in Ferguson was encouraging his jurors to act more like trial jurors in a grand jury setting. When most people think of jurors they are picturing those involved in a typical trial. This  is not reality. The grand jury system is very dissimilar from the typical trial setting that we have become familiar with by watching TV.

The most important difference has to do with their primary duties. The primary grand jury duty is to arrive at a decision as to whether or not there is just enough evidence or “probable cause” to charge an accused person with a crime. “Probable cause” is often defined as it being more probable than not that a crime has been committed. This is the lowest standard of proof required within the judicial system. This is one venue some prosecutors use before heading to trial.

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During a standard criminal trial, the jurors’ main function is to arrive at a conclusion as to whether or not the person who is charged with a crime has been proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The legal definition of “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” as  per freedictionary.com is, “The standard that must be met by the prosecution’s evidence in a criminal prosecution: that no other logical explanation can be derived from the facts except that the defendant committed the crime, thereby overcoming the presumption that a person is innocent until proven guilty.” This is the highest standard of proof required within the judicial system. Also, the grand jury system differs from a criminal trial because a judge is not available to instruct the jurors as to what they need to consider before reaching a final determination because it is the prosecutor who takes on this role. The judge can meet the jurors at the very beginning of the hearing to discuss subjects like their oath. In the typical criminal trial, jurors are instructed by a judge as to how to evaluate the facts presented to them in order to reach a decision. Nearly all trials are public hearings while all grand jury events are held in absolute secrecy. As on TV, many criminal trials can be televised, have media and spectators present. This would never happen in grand jury room. The grand jury participants are sworn to secrecy by taking an oath to act accordingly.

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In general, a grand jury helps the prosecutor decide whether or not to bring criminal charges against a suspect in a crime. Grand juries in most states consist of 23 people with alternates, and the jurors may have jury duty for months at a time. However many states have different rules as to how many people are required to convene a grand jury.  Typically jurors will have to work only a few days out of the month. Usually, they will be reviewing multiple cases for the prosecutor. Normally, the presentation of evidence by the prosecutor takes about 15 minutes. The Grand juries work in conjunction with the prosecutor who advises them as to the law and how to apply the law to come to a decision. All the evidence produced and witness testimonies given are solely directed by the prosecutors; however, the jurors are permitted to ask questions of the witnesses; to request the presence of witnesses and to solicit the introduction of  evidence. In a grand jury setting  the prosecutor is able to introduce much more evidence than what is acceptable at a criminal trial. The reason grand jury proceedings are held in strict secrecy is so the witnesses can speak more freely as well as protect the suspect’s reputation if the grand jury’s decision is not to bring charges. The grand juries almost always grant the desired indictment of the prosecutors, (with the exception of cases against police officers) so that they can proceed to the next step which is the criminal trial. Thus, the common phrase is frequently reiterated that the grand jury prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich. This is also a way for  prosecutors to have a practice run before heading to trial.

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At a typical criminal trial, the jurors will make  a decision only after listening to all the witnesses being cross examined by both the prosecutors and the defense attorneys and after they have sifted through all the evidence and arguments presented by both sides. The judge, the defense attorneys and prosecutors will  be vigorously participating in all trial activities; whereas in the grand jury hearing, it is only the prosecutor who represents the execution or cause of justice.

images boy w bulls eye fergusonGrand jurors and trial jurors must meet the same qualifications. In general, one is eligible to serve as a juror if one is:
1) a United States citizen,
2) at least 18 years old, and
3) a resident of the county one is summoned.

In addition, jurors must be able to understand and speak  English, and not have been convicted of a felony. In grand jury events, the identities and backgrounds of the jurors are kept secret and those serving are strictly informed that they cannot  come forward to publicly discuss anything that happened.

FEGUSON GRAND JURY

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In the St. Louis County grand jury, 12 jurors plus alternates are selected  to be available. Twelve jurors must be present throughout the hearing but nine of the jurors are required to agree on a decision to indict.

In the recent grand jury presentation led by the Prosecutor Robert McCulloch regarding the culpability of Officer Wilson in fatally shooting Michael Brown, nine of the jurors were White and three were Black. The public will not be privy as to the breakdown of which jurors decided in favor of  Police Officer, Darren Wilson. One of the prosecutor’s motivations could be that he feels obligated to protect the identities of the jurors for their security and privacy  as required under the grand jury rules. However, in the interests of having all evidence become public, there is nothing that would compromise the jurors’ identities if the prosecutor would openly divulge the breakdown of how the jurors voted. The breakdown could show that maybe four jurors were in favor of not indicting Officer Wilson and 8 jurors were not. Then the prosecutor can claim Officer Wilson was exonerated by the jurors when technically, this is not true. It is important to point out that Prosecutor Robert McCulloch did not select any alternates to serve on this grand jury regarding the Police Officer Darren Wilson. This is one variance to what typically occurs in St. Louis County.

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Those hearing the prosecutor’s rhetoric at the press conference  should be informed that his grand jury proceeding was not managed as a standard  grand jury by which within 15 minutes, the prosecutor quickly delivers to the jurors the minimum required evidence to prevail in meeting the minimum level  of proving a crime may have been committed, prior to obtaining an indictment. Investigative grand juries that hear a case for months are usually reserved for cases involving widespread corruption or public problems that could effect many people.

The strategy that the Ferguson prosecutor set up was designed to provide him cover so that he could appear impartial and fair in front of the media and the public while limiting damage to the police department. After all, the prosecution’s office is well aware of the independent Department of Justice’s (DOJ) parallel investigation that is being conducted and thus, he must maintain the appearance of being even handed and fair even while he does everything possible to protect the police. After all, he grew up in a police family with his Dad having been fatally shot in the line of duty by an African American individual.images donuts ferg

For prosecutors in general, they are motivated to side on behalf of police officers because it is the police officers who cooperate with them to investigate their cases. It wouldn’t pay for a prosecutor who wants to win criminal cases to upset the police.

Robert McCulloch was not the leading prosecutor working with the jurors of the grand jury. He delegated this role to his assistants, Kathi Alizadeh and  Sheila Whirley. However, he was present to greet the jurors on their first day.

Prosecutor McCullough by delivering to the public all the evidence  including defense data and witnesses viewed by the grand jurors is virtually never done. However, to meet the common sense test of genuine impartiality that he has been attempting to portray via all the media outlets and the public, all witnesses should have been competently cross examined instead of just those whose version contradicts Officer Wilson’s rendition. In addition, there should have been some prior vetting of witnesses to verify at a minimum, that the eye witnesses were present and in a position to actually see what occurred at the scene of the shooting. This is another variance from the standard operating procedures in the St. Louis County grand jury process.

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I still need to find out how those in the grand jury were notified of the 1985 Supreme Court decision Of Tennessee vs. Garner. The Supreme Court held: “The Tennessee statute is unconstitutional insofar as it authorizes the use of deadly force against, as in this case, an apparently unarmed, non dangerous fleeing suspect; such force may not be used unless necessary to prevent the escape and the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others. Pp. 497 U. S. 7-22. This ruling applies to all states and overrides any state laws including the Missouri statute  which does allow a Police Officer with a gun to pursue a fleeing suspect.

I will also be focusing on witness number 10 indicated in the above table. He is the only one who verified Officer Wilson’s story 100% and who testified that Michael Brown’s hands were not raised.  which happens to coincide with the testimony of  Officer Wilson. Everyone else except Witness 30 who were questioned on this issue stated that his hands were raised. Personally, I would like a public notarized assurance from the prosecutor’s office that this witness 10 or any of his family members were not in any way, being subject to a police action; a confidential informant; or has family members employed by law enforcement. I will be checking how his grand jury testimony differs from his original police statement. Then I will be implementing my own table which weeds out eye witnesses who were either not present or who did not witness the shooting and /or the interaction between Police Officer Darren Wilson and Michael Brown.

My hope is that the DOJ investigates thoroughly the Eric Garner and the Michael Brown cases to expose exactly what happened and that both cases end up in civil court. If the Prosecutors in both these cases wanted to be too smart by half, my prayer is that their deeds will finally see the light of day.

RELATED ARTICLES:

If It’s Not a Runaway, It’s Not a Real Grand Jury

EXAMPLE OF CONTENT:

“According to TRAC, of 785 federal grand juries in 1991, grand jurors voted against the prosecutor in only sixteen of the 25,943 matters presented to them, a rate of 99.9% agreement. Even the remaining one tenth of one percent, according to Burnham, might exaggerate a grand jury’s independence, due to prosecutors deliberately “throwing” a couple of prosecutions, such as the possibly disingenuous 1991 “investigation” of Virginia Senator Charles Robb on widespread allegations of illegal tape recording of a political rival.”

The Ferguson Lie | Simple Justice blog.simplejustice.us/2014/11/25/the-ferguson-lie…

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