Abolish grand juries and independently prosecute by information the cops who kill

December 5, 2014

Friday, December 5, 2014

Good afternoon:

Time to get rid of the grand jury (See ham sandwich, indictment of)* and demand governors appoint independent prosecutors to prosecute killer cops.

I despise secrecy, especially secret meetings attended by people who discuss and decide matters that affect others without their knowledge or consent. Democracy requires transparency. It cannot function when decisions are made in secret and carried out without the knowledge and consent of the governed. Similarly, our courts must be open to the public so that the people that it serves can observe and decide whether justice is being dispensed. Indeed, the Sixth Amendment, which is applicable to the states through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees an accused a right to a public trial and the First Amendment protects the public’s right to know what its government and its courts are doing.

A star chamber proceeding has no place in a democratic society; yet, that is what a grand jury does. It meets in secret and decides whether to charge people with crimes. The identities of its members are kept secret as are the identities of the witnesses and their testimony before it.

Why do we have this deplorable practice?

We need to return to not so merry old England during the 11th century when the king was all powerful and able to stifle political dissent and steal valuable lands that he wanted by accusing, imprisoning, prosecuting, convicting and killing people for crimes they had not committed. To prevent him from abusing the criminal law to satisfy his lust for wealth and power, the aristocracy of the day took away his power to decide whom to charge. Hence, the grand jury was created to make that decision and the king had to convince its members that there was a legitimate reason to accuse someone of a crime.

We live in far different times and while there remains a legitimate concern that the criminal laws will be abused to punish and silence those who dissent (fill in the names of any whistleblowers here), we do have a process to review criminal charges for legitimacy. It’s called a probable cause hearing.

What is probable cause, you ask?

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) defined probable cause in Brinegar v. United States, 338 U.S. 160 (1949) as follows:

where the facts and circumstances within the officers’ knowledge, and of which they have reasonably trustworthy information, are sufficient in themselves to warrant a belief by a man of reasonable caution that a crime is being committed.

The sole function of a grand jury today is to decide whether there is probable cause to believe that a person committed the crime charged. A prosecutor typically decides whom to charge and what crime to charge. Armed with a proposed indictment and accompanied by the police detective who ran the investigation or the officer who arrested the suspect or target of the grand jury ‘investigation,’ the prosecutor puts the detective or cop on the stand and has him or her summarize the evidence against the target. Then the grand jury votes on whether there is probable cause. Depending on the size of the grand jury, at least 9 out of 12 or 12 out of 23 ‘yes’ votes are needed to return an indictment or true bill. Otherwise, it’s a no bill.

Many states have abolished the grand jury because it’s a pain-in-the-you-know-what to deal with. Instead, a prosecutor will review a case-investigation file for probable cause, and if it’s there, file an information charging the defendant with a crime or crimes. To satisfy the probable-cause requirement they have the detective or cop who arrested the defendant sign a statement under oath setting forth the evidence in the case. The affidavit is attached to the information and submitted to a judge to review for probable cause. If the judge finds probable cause, he or she signs an order to that effect. Then the information, affidavit for probable cause and order finding probable cause are filed.

Washington State where I practiced law for 30 years uses this process instead of the cumbersome grand jury.

Florida, Missouri and New York use both procedures. In Florida, for example, Angela Corey charged George Zimmerman by information with murder 2 and Michael Dunn with murder 1 by grand jury indictment (Florida requires murder 1 prosecutions to be by grand jury indictment).

Why did the prosecutors in Missouri and New York choose the cumbersome grand jury process instead of charging by information?

The simple answer in two words is ‘political cover.’

State prosecutors, who are elected by the voters, work closely with the police. They see themselves as partners with police in fighting crime. The last thing they want to do is to prosecute a police officer for killing someone. Not only is that like prosecuting a member of your own family for murder, it’s a great way to destroy a working relationship with police officers and lose the next election. In other words, they have a conflict of interest and it’s way too easy to succumb to temptation and use the secret grand jury to avoid charging and prosecuting a police officer.

State prosecutors who work with grand juries know how to get them to do their bidding. There are all sorts of ways. For example, in the Michael Brown shooting case, prosecutor Kathy Alizadeh went so far as to gently lead Officer Darren Wilson through 4 hours of testimony without ever challenging him on anything he said and she provided the grand jury with a statute favorable to him that the SCOTUS declared unconstitutional in 1985. The only witnesses challenged were the eyewitnesses who said Michael Brown had his hands up. As I warned long ago before the grand jury began hearing witnesses, the process was rigged and the outcome never in doubt.

The same is true in the Eric Garner case, except we are not going to see the prosecutor’s fingerprints at the scene of the crime because he is not going to release any evidence, except maybe the cop’s testimony, because he is going to play I’ve got a secret.

We are seeing an epidemic of cops killing unarmed civilians. There was another one in Phoenix last night.

White, brown or black, male or female, adult or child, we the people are being terrorized by militarized cops and state prosecutors are using secret grand juries to protect the killer cops and escape the political consequences for their wrongdoing.

We need to eliminate their political cover by getting rid of the grand jury and then we need to demand governors to appoint independent prosecutors to prosecute these cases.

Failure to do so will eventually lead to the people taking the law into their own hands and that is a result we must avoid.

*Charlie Pierce at Esquire Magazine came up with this expression.


Grand Jury Basics, as Ferguson Waits for a Decision

November 20, 2014

by Crane-Station/cross posted at Firedoglake

 

In the United States, a person cannot be prosecuted for a felony unless there is probable cause to believe that a person has committed a felony. Pursuant to the Fifth Amendment, all federal felony prosecutions must be by grand jury indictment, unless the defendant waives his right to be prosecuted by indictment and agrees to be prosecuted by information.

This means federal prosecutors present their cases to a grand jury together with the indictment and ask the grand jury to review and approve the indictment. However, this requirement is not binding on the states. The states have the option to either file by information in order to charge someone with a felony, or a prosecutor can go to a grand jury to get the indictment. Missouri is one of these states. The key legal matter is that there has to be probable cause to believe that a crime occurred, and someone other than the prosecutor- either a judge or a grand jury- has to decide.

The interesting issue in this case is why the prosecutor decided to go to the grand jury, as opposed to charging Darren Wilson by information. The likely reason that the prosecutor did not file by information is that it would have potentially been a job killer. If he charged Wilson with murder, the police would have turned against him, but the citizens of Ferguson and their supporters would have and were turning against him because he did not. To extricate himself from the dilemma, he took the case to the grand jury. That said, here are some of the characteristics of the grand jury:

Who is in a grand jury room?
-There are 12 members in the Ferguson grand jury. These twelve members were summoned in by the clerk of the court.
-They serve a term, where maybe they meet once a week, but they don’t meet every day.
-They choose a foreperson.
– Only the members of the grand jury, the court reporter and a prosecutor are allowed in the room, along with the witness, which is usually the arresting officer.
-Sometimes they bring other witnesses. All witnesses testify under oath.
-No judge is present in the grand jury room.
-No defense attorney is present in the room.
-The grand jurors are sworn to secrecy.

Are they sequestered? Is there a selection process, ie, voir dire?
-It would be impractical to sequester a grand jury because of the length of the term they serve, so they come and go during their term of service. This may be once a week or even once a month. Grand jurors are not sequestered.
-There is no voir dire with grand jury selection, so grand jurors do not have to disclose their opinions about various issues.
-There is no one to strike a grand juror from the panel, so grand jurors are not “stricken for cause.”

What is a true bill and what is a no bill?
-The grand jury can issue a “true bill,” which is an indictment. The defendant then pleads guilty or not guilty.
-The grand jury can issue a “no true bill”, which means the grand jury did not find enough evidence to establish probable cause, to move the case forward for prosecution.
-The grand juries sometimes write reports about what they have investigated, for instance, systematic problems in the justice system.
-It takes nine votes to indict in Missouri; the vote does not have to be unanimous, for a true bill.
-The foreperson of the grand jury signs and returns, or hands down the indictment, which is filed in the Court Clerk’s Office. Grand juries rarely ever refuse to indict.

What are the possibilities for charges that Officer Wilson could face in Ferguson?
-First-degree murder for the killing of Michael Brown.
-Second-degree murder.
-Voluntary manslaughter.
-Involuntary manslaughter.
-No charges.

Do grand jurors decide if someone is guilty of committing a crime?
-No. Unlike trial jurors, the grand jury decides whether there is probable cause that a crime was committed. They do not to decide guilt.
-The rules of evidence do not apply and hearsay is admissible. That means that prosecutors can ask leading questions.
-Grand jurors are not to disclose evidence that they hear, and there is a penalty if they do.

It is notable that Darren Wilson, who is the target of the investigation, testified before this grand jury without invoking his constitutional right to remain silent, and without any agreement that involved immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony. A person would have to be insane to testify in this situation, and no lawyer would advise someone to do that, unless he had assurances from that prosecutor, that the prosecutor was on his side. That is the fly in this ointment- that Darren Wilson testified before the grand jury rather than invoking his constitutional right to remain silent.

It doesn’t take a weatherman to figure out which way the wind is blowing.

What journalists covering Ferguson need to know about grand juries


St.Louis Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch is subverting justice in Michael Brown case

October 4, 2014

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Good morning:

I write today to clarify the role of the prosecutor and grand jury in the Michael Brown murder investigation.

State grand juries have jurisdiction to investigate and charge people with state crimes committed within the county in which they are located. State or county prosecutors submit cases to them for consideration. Grand juries can also initiate their own investigations by subpoenaing witnesses, but they rarely do that.

Federal grand juries work the same way, but they deal with with federal crimes committed within the federal district in which they are located.

Jurisdiction to charge and prosecute drug offenses overlaps because both state and federal statutes have criminalized drug crimes. To avoid doubling up, the feds handle the more serious drug cases and the states handle the less serious ones. By seriousness, I am referring to the amount of drugs involved.

Jurisdiction rarely overlaps in murder cases because jurisdiction in murder cases depends on where the crime was committed. For example, the State of Missouri has jurisdiction to prosecute Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown, but the feds do not since the shooting did not happen on federal property, such as a military base. But they would have jurisdiction to indict him for committing a hate crime or violating Michael Brown’s civil rights, since they have jurisdiction to charge those crimes wherever they are committed.

Federal prosecutors in the Central District of Florida, which is where George Zimmerman shot and killed an unarmed Trayvon Martin, apparently have decided not to seek an indictment charging Zimmerman with a hate crime or a civil rights violation.

A St.Louis County grand jury has jurisdiction to indict Darren Wilson because the shooting happened within that county.

There is no statute of limitations in murder cases. Therefore, if the grand jury’s term expires before it decides whether to indict Darren Wilson, a new grand jury can be convened to continue the investigation.

As I see it, St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch does not want to prosecute Darren Wilson for murdering Michael Brown, so he is deliberately dragging his feet to prevent the grand jury from indicting him.

I have reached that conclusion because I can think of no valid reason why Wilson has not been indicted. Approximately ten witnesses who do not know Brown, Wilson or each other have all described Wilson shooting Brown after Brown stopped running away, turned and raised his hands. No one described Brown bull-rushing Wilson, although one witness described Brown stumbling toward Wilson after being shot and dropping to the ground.

His body was 95 feet away from Wilson’s vehicle.

A grand jury need only find probable cause (i.e., reasonable grounds) to believe Wilson murdered Brown in order to indict Wilson.

Wilson should have been indicted weeks ago because there is far more evidence against him than is necessary to establish probable cause.

Our legal system is designed to have trials in cases like this so that the community can witness the legal process proceed toward a just result as we just witnessed in the Theodore Wafer and Michael Dunn cases.

Bob McCulloch is attempting to subvert that process and by doing so he is subverting justice.

The good people of Ferguson know what he is doing and they are expressing their dismay peacefully by public protest.

That could change, if he continues to subvert justice.

For more information on the role of grand juries, click on “grand jury” in the index of categories that appears in column on the right side of the web page.

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#MikeBrown did not “bum rush” the Ferguson police officer

August 20, 2014

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Good morning:

LLMPapa is back!

He has a unique way of getting to the truth in a heartbeat and in this video he exposes the lie that Michael Brown stopped suddenly after running 35 feet away from the officer’s vehicle, turned and “bum rushed” him.

According to his girlfriend, the officer fired but Brown “kept coming and coming.” The officer kept shooting and the last shot to Brown’s forehead finally put him down.

Brown must have been running in place because his body was found 35 feet away from the vehicle.

The officer executed Mike Brown and lied about it to his girlfriend.

The District Attorney for St.Louis County will be presenting evidence about this shooting to a grand jury today. He is going to have some ‘splainin’ to do do, if the grand jury does not indict Officer Darren Wilson for the murder of Mike Brown.

Thank you, Papa, and welcome back.


Florida grand jury refuses to charge police officer who executed a black man with his cruiser

September 22, 2013

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Good morning:

CAUTION: Disturbing Video

CNN reported yesterday:

The family of a Florida man has released video of his death, hoping to get criminal charges filed against the police officer who ran him over.

On May 8, Marlon Brown was being chased by DeLand police because they allegedly saw that he was not wearing a seatbelt. At a dead-end road, Brown stopped his car and started running.

One of the police cars hit and ran him over, its dashcam video recording the entire incident.

Last week, a grand jury decided not to indict officer James Harris on a criminal charge of vehicular manslaughter. That’s when the family decided to go public, and release the video.

“We knew it wasn’t going to be an easy video to watch,” says Krystal Brown the ex-wife and mother of Brown’s children, “but in order to obtain justice, and that’s what we’re looking for, we knew it was something that we had to do.”

Although the DeLand Police Department fired the officer who executed Mr. Brown and the City of DeLand settled a wrongful death claim with the family for $550,000 (without admitting liability), the State Attorney for Florida’s 7th judicial district R.J. Larizza decided to present the evidence to the grand jury instead of filing charges, which he could have done as Angela Corey did with George Zimmerman.

The grand jury declined to charge the officer with a crime last week after two days of testimony.

Yet another disgusting example of racism in Florida.


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