Ferguson Grand Jury: No Indictment for Darren Wilson

By Mark Wilson, Esq. on November 24, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

On November 24, 2014, a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri delivered its long-awaited decision on whether to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the August 9 shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed African American teenager.

The grand jury was presented with five different options for what to charge, ranging from first-degree murder to manslaughter. CNN reports that after months of evidence presentation and two days of deliberation, the grand jury returned "no true bill," meaning it didn't find any probable cause for any of the five charges.

What does this mean for Darren Wilson and Michael Brown's family?

'No True Bill,' but Wilson Can Be Indicted Again

The prosecution isn't prevented from trying to indict Wilson again, either on the same charges or on different charges. The double jeopardy clause of the Constitution attaches when a petit (trial) jury is impaneled and sworn at trial, which happens long after a grand jury indicts.

Though the prosecutor can try to indict Wilson for a different charge, in front of a new grand jury, it's rare that a prosecutor seeks another indictment, especially in a high-profile case such as this. The notoriety of the case means that the jury pool of disinterested citizens who know nothing about the case would be significantly smaller in the event of another indictment. There's also an inference that, if a prosecutor can't prove a charge the first time -- in an environment as friendly to the prosecution as a grand jury (there's no judge and no defense attorney) -- then he or she won't be able to prove it a second time.

This Isn't an Evaluation of Wilson's Guilt or Innocence

A grand jury doesn't determine guilt or innocence or absolve someone of wrongdoing. It determines only if there's probable cause to charge and initiate criminal proceedings. The fact that the jury didn't return a "true bill" (a finding that the prosecutor's charges were supported by probable cause) just means that it didn't think prosecutors provided enough evidence to support those charges. Wilson, like all criminal suspects, is still presumed innocent.

"No true bill" also doesn't mean the decision not to indict was unanimous. In Missouri, at least nine jurors have to agree to indict; this means that, in this case, fewer than nine jurors agreed to indict out of twelve.

This Isn't Nearly the End of the Road

Even if there's no criminal prosecution in state court, Brown's family will likely pursue a civil suit against Wilson and the Ferguson police. Civil suits are easier to win because the burden of proof is a preponderance of the evidence, much less than the "beyond a reasonable doubt" of a criminal trial.

Also, the U.S. Attorney General could pursue federal criminal charges, but those, too, are rare, and available only in a few, limited circumstances. Even if the feds do pursue criminal charges, we will all be put through the grand jury drama again, as the Constitution requires federal charges be brought by a federal grand jury.

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