8th Cir. Revives Federal Claims by Michael Brown Juror

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on June 22, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Federal claims by one of the jurors in the Michael Brown case were revived by the Eighth Circuit. Additional controversy in the critical "Black Lives Matter" case was stirred when the anonymous juror -- known only as "Jane Doe" -- suggested that not all jurors unanimously agreed not to indict police officer Darren Wilson.

Doe, who apparently feels quite strongly about her opinion, faces the possibility of having misdemeanor counts brought against her for disclosing the goings-on of jury deliberations, according to the Associated Press.

Brown and BLM Movement

The Michael Brown case and a litany of other police aggression cases against individuals within the Black-American community (particularly young men) sparked the social awareness movement known as "Black Lives Matter." The movement highlights what many feel to be a regression in race-relations. The night the grand jury found in favor of Officer Wilson, the Ferguson Protests broke out resulting in injuries, riot looting and arson.

Doe's Complaint

Doe filed a complaint in federal court in January of 2015, alleging that Missouri's laws restricting speech regarding grand jury deliberations were an unconstitutional violation of her free speech guarantees. The lower court dismissed the case, citing the abstention doctrine. In the view of the Circuit, Burford style abstention was proper in this case. Here is the key provision from the Eighth Circuit's opinion.

"'Burford abstention applies when a state has established a complex regulatory scheme supervised by state courts and serving important state interests, and when resolution of the case demands specialized knowledge and the application of complicated state laws.' Doe's lawsuit does not involve any complex regulatory scheme, nor does it demand the delicate balancing of state interests typically found in Burford abstention cases. Moreover, although the Missouri statutes are not without ambiguity, they also are not particularly complicated. Doe's lawsuit simply does not implicate the principles underlying Burford abstention, for 'it does not demand significant familiarity with, and will not disrupt state resolution of, distinctively local regulatory facts or policies.'"

What the lower court should have done was to stay the proceedings of the case until a Missouri court could determine for itself the constitutionality of the speech restrictions on jurors.

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