A. Grand juries as tilted playing fields
Trial juries participate in judicial procedures managed by judges who enforce rules of evidence and other procedures designed to ensure that both sides get a fair hearing. By contrast, grand juries participate in procedures that are managed by the prosecutors themselves. No judges are present. So prosecutors are free to introduce whatever evidence they deem fit and to interrogate witnesses in whatever manner they choose. In other words, prosecutors get what they want from grand juries because they are free to tilt the procedural playing fields to their advantage. They can do things with grand juries that competent judges would rule out of order in a trial.
So the question becomes: How far will prosecutors deviate from trial procedures in order to win indictments from grand juries? Their overwhelming record of victory suggests an obvious answer: They will go as far as they think they have to go in order to win an indictment -- if they really want an indictment. And conversely, they will go as far as they think they have to go to convince a grand jury NOT to vote for a indictment if, as in the Ferguson case, the prosecutor really doesn't want an indictment, i.e., if arraigning the grand jury is merely a charade designed to abruptly halt a series of politically troublesome trials and appeals before they began.
B. How far did prosecutors go in Ferguson?
According to reports from MSNBC and Salon magazine, the prosecutors went pretty far. To be specific, they went so far as to deliberately misinform the grand jury that a police officer has the right to shoot a suspect if the suspect tries to run away. And they acted more like Officer Wilson's defense attorneys than his prosecutors. Please review the following sources:
- "Shocking mistake in Darren Wilson's grand jury" (Lawrence O'Donnell, MSNBC, 11/26/14)
- "Everything the Darren Wilson grand jury got wrong ..." (Paul Rosenberg, Salon magazine, 11/26/14)
- Surely the District Attorney and his assistants knew that the reporters would notice that they lied when they told the jurors that Officer Wilson had the legal right to shoot Michael Brown just because the young man tried to run away. And surely the prosecutors knew that the reporters would notice that the prosecutors never cross-examined Officer Wilson.
- Of course they did. But they didn't care. They went as far as they thought they had to go in order to win. And their victory will stand because there's no appealing the grand jury's decision not to indict Officer Wilson.
Related notes on this blog:
- Failure to indict in Ferguson ... November 2014