As demonstrations erupt in city after city in protest against the Ferguson (Missouri) grand jury’s failure to return an indictment against a local cop there, I can’t help but be amazed, by the paucity of reporting or commentary on how the local DAs instructed –or should I say, mis-instructed? – the grand jury on the law to use to determine if a crime was committed.
Grand jurors, as a rule, aren’t composed of lawyers or scholars. They are regular people.
That’s why what happened there was so extraordinary.
An Assistant District Attorney specifically referred to, and gave jurors a copy of, a Missouri statute that legally allowed police to shoot a fleeing suspect.
The problem is, that law had been declared unconstitutional by a U.S. Supreme Court decision which abrogated the very position that statute posed.
Prosecutors gave it to jurors in September. Two months later, in November, just days before the grand jury came to its decision they gave them the correct law, but never once clearly explained its constitutional significance.
According to MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, when a grand juror asked the DA directly if the Supreme Court case overturned the Missouri statute, the juror was given evasive – and misleading – answers by the ADAs.
One prosecutor remarked that the grand jury wasn’t a law school (!)
When a jury is given two instructions, one correct, and the other incorrect, it is misled, for the only result of such a practice can be confusion.
A confused grand jury is a manipulated grand jury; and the citizens of Ferguson, Missouri – and family of Mike Brown – deserve better.