Gross Fact: Grand Juries Almost Always Indict, Except In Police Shooting Cases


While we spend the day trying to recover from super sensory overload following an evening of tumult in the wake of the verdict that resulted in Darren Wilson receiving no punishment, a lot of people are questioning the inconsistencies in the Ferguson grand jury. The decision to not indict Darren Wilson for the shooting of unarmed Michael Brown was one of inevitability, but it was unusual. It seems that grand juries almost always decide to indict, except in cases of police shootings, and that’s what we should be focusing on and trying to reform.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. attorneys prosecuted 162,000 federal cases in 2010 yet didn’t produce an indictment in but 11 of them. Since Wilson’s case was heard in state court, not federal, the numbers aren’t exactly relatable. As FiveThirtyEight pointed out:

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Unlike in federal court, most states, including Missouri, allow prosecutors to bring charges via a preliminary hearing in front of a judge instead of through a grand jury indictment.

In other words, most cases never go before a grand jury. Nevertheless,  most legal experts agree that it is unusual for prosecutors to not produce an indictment.

‘If the prosecutor wants an indictment and doesn’t get one, something has gone horribly wrong,’ said Andrew D. Leipold, a University of Illinois law professor who has written critically about grand juries. ‘It just doesn’t happen.’ (FiveThirtyEight)

Does that mean that Ferguson prosecutor Bob McCulloch didn’t really want an indictment, then? I mean, could he hate indictments as much as he hates social media? We did all see how biased he was and seemingly acted like Darren Wilson’s defense attorney in the reading of the grand jury judgement. Nevertheless, it really starts to get tricky when it comes to cases involving police shootings.

Not surprisingly, a lot of data isn’t available regarding police shootings, but newspaper data shows that  grand juries often decline to indict police.  A Houston Chronicle investigation, for example,  concluded that “police have been nearly immune from criminal charges in shootings” in Houston.

From FiveThirtyEight:

In Harris County, Texas, for example, grand juries haven’t indicted a Houston police officer since 2004; in Dallas, grand juries reviewed 81 shootings between 2008 and 2012 and returned just one indictment. Separate research by Bowling Green State University criminologist Philip Stinson has found that officers are rarely charged in on-duty killings, although it didn’t look at grand jury indictments specifically.

So why is it that grand juries are so indictment happy, except when it comes to the police?

As mentioned above, prosecutorial bias could be a major factor. As FiveThirtyEight keenly pointed out:

Perhaps prosecutors, who depend on police as they work on criminal cases, tend to present a less compelling case against officers, whether consciously or unconsciously.

We already know that the Brown family felt the process was deeply flawed and was very unhappy with the manner in which it was handled.

‘We took a blow last night and some people think it was a fixed fight,’ said lawyer Benjamin ‘This process was supposed to create clarity, but didn’t it raise more questions?’ (LA Times)

Never has police reform been more readily apparent. The ridiculous rise of police brutality and killings show that it’s a convenient way to get an extra paid vacation. So, let’s hope that the militarization of the police, and excessive police action, remains in the conversation and results in workable legislation. In other words, we’ll sue or impeach Obama.

H/T: FiveThirtyEight

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