The importance of a Grand Jury.
By: Kelly Burke 12/12/2014
Last week I wrote about my belief that the grand jury system is a great system, the best in the world.
Here’s what is amazing about the situation in Ferguson. The very people who don’t trust “The Man”, because after all “The Man” shot and killed Michael Brown, those people want “The Man” to make the charging decision instead of the grand jury.
The grand jury was designed to take “The Man” out of the process. A grand jury, composed of regular folk, decide whether an accused has to go in front of a trial jury, composed of regular folk. Isn’t that the perfect system to keep “The Man” from putting his finger on the people and squashing them?
Now if the people of the community are all bigots, racists, homophobes, derelicts, feminazis, or whatever, then I guess you’ve got a problem. But I didn’t hear the Ferguson protesters complaining that the grand jury was any of those things, in fact, they went out of their way to not criticize the grand jury. What they complained about was that the DA didn’t “do the normal” thing and go to a preliminary hearing as the charging device. As I’ve said before, in Georgia the Michael Brown shooting case would have been required to go to a grand jury, and for that I am thankful. However, in Missouri, the DA had a choice and he picked the grand jury process.
The grand jury is secretive. That is a good thing. The public airing of the Michael Brown case at a preliminary hearing would have set up a circus of O.J. proportions. The daily media analysis of who said what would have dominated the 24 hour news channels. People would have been intimidated by the various factions that insist on only their side being heard. There would have been press conferences by every witness after their testimony about all things not related to the evidence. It would have been as much an “un-investigation” as could have been had. And, at the end of the hearing, “The Man” would be the one sending it to a trial jury and you’d start that same circus all over again.
Another disadvantage of the preliminary hearing is that Officer Wilson’s testimony would likely not have been offered. A police officer has certain immunities, but the public airing of his statement would have been parsed on the nightly news over and over (like it is now), such that his attorney would have opted to avoid that spectacle by not allowing him to testify. I know I wouldn’t have recommended to Officer Wilson that he testify in a public preliminary hearing.
Why was this case different from the other cases that DA McCullough did direct charges himself? C’mon! Of course it was different. If you want the truth, if you want to investigate and get to the heart of the matter, the grand jury was the only way to make that happen. Our Founding Fathers got most things right. They certainly got the grand jury part right.
Oh yeah! My Yellow Jackets had that game in the bag the whole time. Me? Worried? Never. Go Jackets!
Kelly Burke, master attorney, former district attorney and magistrate judge, is engaged in private practice where he focuses on personal injury cases. These articles are not designed to give legal advice, but are designed to inform the public about how the law affects their daily lives. Contact Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org to comment on this article or suggest articles about the law that you’d like to see.