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As A Decision Nears In Ferguson, We Answer: What Happens In The Grand Jury? Part 1

After hearing testimony for nearly three months in the death of Michael Brown, the 18-year-old who was shot by Officer Darren Wilson on August 9, a St. Louis County grand jury is nearing a decision on whether to bring criminal charges against the officer.

Routinely, grand juries are virtual rubber stamps for prosecutors, approving the proposed indictments after hearing from a few witnesses and getting the bare bones details on the incriminating evidence. As an example, former Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals in New York, Solomon Wachtler, once told the Daily News that district attorneys in this state could get a grand jury to "indict a ham sandwich."

In Ferguson however, the case that is laden with emotions and racial tension, has been anything but routine. 

The St. Louis prosecuting attorney has said from the outset that his office would be "presenting absolutely everything" to the grand jury, including eyewitness accounts of the fatal interaction and forensic conclusions that may be diametrically opposed to each other. As a result, the proceedings have been prolonged and exhaustive, in some ways more resembling a criminal trial than a normal grand jury proceeding.

This grand jury is probably hearing more about this single case than any other grand jury has heard about any other case in living memory. The result being that the prosecutors appear to be giving the grand jury the ability to decide the case for themselves, instead of the usual slant towards voting to indict. Unfortunately, this is not the norm in New York State.

As a former prosecutor, I have a unique insight into the day to day operations and procedures of the grand jury. In Part 2, I will answer some basic questions about what happens inside the secret proceedings of the grand jury, and how at this early yet critical statge, an experienced criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor can make a huge impact on the case going forward.

Source: The New York Times.

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