Ferguson Grand Jury: 3 Legal Facts to Keep in Mind
St. Louis County prosecutors will begin presenting evidence to a grand jury this week in connection with the fatal officer-involved shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
The grand jury will be tasked with evaluating testimony and evidence regarding the unarmed 18-year-old's death and will consider criminal charges against those responsible. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, assistant St. Louis County prosecutors Kathi Alizadeh and Sheila Whirley have been selected to present the case to the jurors.
As the grand jury process begins, here are three legal facts to keep in mind:
1. The Ferguson Grand Jury Will Take Months.
This isn't exactly a legal requirement, but more of a practical reality: Grand jury investigations typically take months. Since the grand jury has to consider enough evidence to issue an indictment, prosecutors do not wish to rush the process. McCulloch told the Post-Dispatch that "not all of the evidence is ready to be presented," and the target date for completion is "the middle of October."
Two months may be optimistic if the charges involve murder. As you may recall from the case of ex-NFL star Aaron Hernandez, it took almost a year from the time of his arrest for a grand jury to indict him on a pair of 2012 murders.
2. Grand Juries Are Secret.
Grand jury proceedings are held in secret, meaning that whatever evidence presented to a grand jury will not be available to the public while the investigation is proceeding. Unlike a normal trial jury, a grand jury typically has no other legal contact other than a prosecutor -- no judges and no defense attorneys. A grand jury may also be allowed to consider evidence that may not be admissible at trial, even if it violates the normal rules of evidence.
The members of this Ferguson grand jury will hear evidence behind closed doors until they determine there is probable cause for a criminal charge (or charges), or that no charges are appropriate. If there are charges, St. Louis prosecutors can take the defendants to trial.
3. A Federal Investigation Is Still Pending.
While the state grand jury investigation is beginning, a parallel federal investigation into federal civil rights charges has also begun. Attorney General Eric Holder announced in a Department of Justice press release that the continuing federal investigation will also take time, "but it will be thorough and fair."
Bottom line: It may be months before either state or federal investigators have enough evidence to press criminal charges for the events in Ferguson, Missouri.
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