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Over Easy: Grand Jury Basics, as Ferguson Waits for a Decision

darren wilson

Darren Wilson

In the United States, a person cannot be prosecuted for a felony unless there is probable cause to believe that a person has committed a felony. Pursuant to the Fifth Amendment, all federal felony prosecutions must be by grand jury indictment, unless the defendant waives his right to be prosecuted by indictment and agrees to be prosecuted by information.

This means federal prosecutors present their cases to a grand jury together with the indictment and ask the grand jury to review and approve the indictment. However, this requirement is not binding on the states. The states have the option to either file by information in order to charge someone with a felony, or a prosecutor can go to a grand jury to get the indictment. Missouri is one of these states. The key legal matter is that there has to be probable cause to believe that a crime occurred, and someone other than the prosecutor- either a judge or a grand jury- has to decide.

The interesting issue in this case is why the prosecutor decided to go to the grand jury, as opposed to charging Darren Wilson by information. The likely reason that the prosecutor did not file by information is that it would have potentially been a job killer. If he charged Wilson with murder, the police would have turned against him, but the citizens of Ferguson and their supporters would have and were turning against him because he did not. To extricate himself from the dilemma, he took the case to the grand jury. That said, here are some of the characteristics of the grand jury:

Who is in a grand jury room?
-There are 12 members in the Ferguson grand jury. These twelve members were summoned in by the clerk of the court.
-They serve a term, where maybe they meet once a week, but they don’t meet every day.
-They choose a foreperson.
– Only the members of the grand jury, the court reporter and a prosecutor are allowed in the room, along with the witness, which is usually the arresting officer.
-Sometimes they bring other witnesses. All witnesses testify under oath.
-No judge is present in the grand jury room.
-No defense attorney is present in the room.
-The grand jurors are sworn to secrecy.

CommunityMyFDL Front Page

Over Easy: Grand Jury Basics, as Ferguson Waits for a Decision

darren wilson

Darren Wilson

In the United States, a person cannot be prosecuted for a felony unless there is probable cause to believe that a person has committed a felony. Pursuant to the Fifth Amendment, all federal felony prosecutions must be by grand jury indictment, unless the defendant waives his right to be prosecuted by indictment and agrees to be prosecuted by information.

This means federal prosecutors present their cases to a grand jury together with the indictment and ask the grand jury to review and approve the indictment. However, this requirement is not binding on the states. The states have the option to either file by information in order to charge someone with a felony, or a prosecutor can go to a grand jury to get the indictment. Missouri is one of these states. The key legal matter is that there has to be probable cause to believe that a crime occurred, and someone other than the prosecutor- either a judge or a grand jury- has to decide.

The interesting issue in this case is why the prosecutor decided to go to the grand jury, as opposed to charging Darren Wilson by information. The likely reason that the prosecutor did not file by information is that it would have potentially been a job killer. If he charged Wilson with murder, the police would have turned against him, but the citizens of Ferguson and their supporters would have and were turning against him because he did not. To extricate himself from the dilemma, he took the case to the grand jury. That said, here are some of the characteristics of the grand jury:

Who is in a grand jury room?
-There are 12 members in the Ferguson grand jury. These twelve members were summoned in by the clerk of the court.
-They serve a term, where maybe they meet once a week, but they don’t meet every day.
-They choose a foreperson.
– Only the members of the grand jury, the court reporter and a prosecutor are allowed in the room, along with the witness, which is usually the arresting officer.
-Sometimes they bring other witnesses. All witnesses testify under oath.
-No judge is present in the grand jury room.
-No defense attorney is present in the room.
-The grand jurors are sworn to secrecy.

(more…)

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Firedoglake.com. Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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