Now that a St. Louis County grand jury has finished three months of deliberations in the case against Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, some aspects of the process will remain secret while others will be publicly disclosed. The Washington Post asked Ed Magee, spokesman for Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch, and other legal experts to help explain the law that governs the grand jury process.
Q: Did the jury’s ruling on whether to indict Wilson for the Aug. 9 fatal shooting of Brown have to be unanimous?
A: No. In Missouri, there are 12 members on a grand jury and nine must vote in favor of an indictment for there to be one.
What are the possible criminal charges Wilson was facing?
The prosecutor’s office did not tell jurors what specific charge they should consider. As a result, the jury likely has been weighing a variety of charges — from first-degree murder to unlawful discharge of a firearm.
What standard is used to determine whether Wilson should be indicted?
Jurors have to decide whether there is probable cause to believe Wilson committed a crime. The standard is lower than a jury trial in criminal court, where jurors must determine whether there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime was committed.
Will the evidence given to the grand jury — including county crime lab test results and transcripts of witness testimony — be released to the public? What is the process and timeline for that?
For months, McCulloch has said he would seek a court order to immediately release all evidence if Wilson is not indicted, but court officials said Sunday they have not yet received any request from him. Paul Fox, the court administrator with St. Louis County Circuit Court, said in a news release that the court is anticipating a request from McCulloch but that a judge would have to “analyze the need for maintaining secrecy of the records with the need for public disclosure of the records.” Fox emphasized that this has not been done — and would take time.
Can members of the grand jury speak publicly or tell friends or relatives about the case after their work is done?
No. They are prohibited by state law from discussing any details. They would be facing a contempt-of-court charge, a Class A misdemeanor, which could result in a fine and up to one year in jail.
Will the county disclose the identities of grand jury members?
No. The county will continue to protect jurors’ identities, which it is required to do by state law.
Can witnesses speak publicly?
Yes. There are no legal prohibitions against them sharing what they told the grand jury or what questions prosecutors or jurors may have posed during deliberations.
Will there still be a trial in criminal court?
No. The grand jury was convened to determine if Wilson should face criminal charges for the shooting. No indictment means no trial.
If new evidence surfaces in the case, can a new grand jury be convened?
There is no statute of limitations on a homicide, so if new evidence emerged, it would be reviewed and the case would possibly go to a new grand jury.
Can a civil lawsuit be filed against Wilson by the Brown family?
Yes, though experts say civil lawsuits tend to be more successful when there is a criminal conviction.
Does the grand jury decision have any bearing on the Justice Department’s criminal investigation into Wilson?
No. The Justice Department probe will continue on its own course. However, the FBI — which is investigating for the Justice Department — and the St. Louis County Police Department cooperated with one another, sharing all evidence gathered during their investigations. People familiar with the investigation have told The Post that the Justice Department is unlikely to file charges against Wilson. It is looking at whether Wilson violated Brown’s civil rights in the fatal shooting.
What about the Justice Department’s broad civil rights investigation into the Ferguson Police Department?
The federal government will also continue looking at whether the Ferguson Police Department is engaged in widespread civil rights violations that require reforms.
Will Wilson return to his job with the Ferguson Police Department?
Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson has said Wilson is resigning from the force.