Legal Experts Call Ferguson Decision Unusual, Not Unfair

St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch announces the grand jury's decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year old, on Monday, Nov. 24, 2014, at the Buzz Westfall Justice Center in Clayton, Mo. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Cristina Fletes-Boutte, Pool)
St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch announces the grand jury’s decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year old, on Monday, Nov. 24, 2014, at the Buzz Westfall Justice Center in Clayton, Mo. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Cristina Fletes-Boutte, Pool)

Legal experts across the country agree that while the process that led to a grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, was unusual, it was not unfair. Rather if it was anything unusual, it was in its fairness and openness.

Lawyers and academics told The Washington Times that, despite their personal opinions on the case, which has sparked riots over police brutality, St. Louis county prosecutor Robert McCulloch sought unbiased justice in presenting the jury with every piece of evidence and then making that evidence public.

“It was the most thorough grand jury investigation that I’ve ever heard of,” said Stephen Saltzburg, a professor of law at George Washington University Law School.

Media outlets and supporters of Mr. Brown have said that Mr. McCulloch’s prosecution was unusual because he did not go in with the goal of seeking an indictment in secret, as most prosecutors do.

But Richard Kelsey, assistant dean for management and planning at George Mason University law school, said that what makes this case more unusual is that Mr. McCulloch sought justice rather than an indictment.

“More recently everyone has head the statement that ‘a good prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich,’” Mr. Kelsey said. “It is true that it is usually easy to get an indictment, but is that a just process? I would say no.”

Legal scholars say that Mr. McCulloch’s decision to release the evidence presented to the grand jury for public scrutiny was also unprecedented, since grand-jury hearings are usually shrouded in secrecy, both while going on and after the fact.

“Usually you don’t hear what evidence they considered,” Mr. Saltzburg said. “I give the prosecutor top marks in terms of transparency and accountability.”

The Brown family and their supporters argue that if the prosecutor had championed harder for an indictment, a full trial could have led to a conviction. But lawyers say in this case, a strong push to indict Officer Wilson merely based on the easier legal standard of “probable cause” would have merely set up a trial where the prosecution likely would have failed to get a guilty verdict based on the much stiffer “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard.

“Even if you could have gotten an indictment, what good does it do to get an indictment and then have your case thrown out,” said Gabriel Chin, a professor at the University of California Davis School of Law.

“You go ahead and do a weak grand jury presentation, but if you do it in a case that’s actually weak, how are you going to feel when you are prosecuting a case that you really shouldn’t be prosecuting,” Mr. Chin said.

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SOURCE: The Washington Times
Kellan Howell

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