Grand Juries and the State of Ignorance…

They reached a decision, and the quotes from protestors being interviewed on TV, radio and internet are beyond belief.

1) The district attorney decided to take the case to the Grand Jury so that they could have a one-side trial in secret. The fix was in.

2) The district attorney didn’t bother to ask the officer any difficult questions, or take the opportunity to impeach his testimony with vigorous cross examination.

3) The Grand Jury only heard one side, and was not allowed to hear the “other side.”

4) The whole thing was a secret trial designed to clear the officer.

5) The officer should have been arrested and held in jail until the Grand Jury was finished with its deliberations – like most people who are arrested. The officer got special treatment.

There are only a few legal ways to charge someone with a crime. Let’s look at those, keeping in mind that in order to charge with a crime, the government/police must have probable cause to believe the elements of a crime have occurred and that the person to be charged did all the elements of the crime. Probable cause is NOT proof beyond a reasonable doubt, but instead is based on a set of probabilities that the crime occurred and the person charged actually did the things that constitute the crime.

1) An officer with jurisdiction sees the offense occur, identifies the person to be charged, takes him or her into custody, and charges him or her with a crime. In this case, the officer saw the elements, saw the suspect complete the elements, and that formed the basis for probable cause.

2) An officer talks to victims and witnesses, collects physical evidence, and determines that there is enough probable cause to identify and charge the suspect. The officer takes the suspect into custody and charges him or her with a crime. In this case, the statements and evidence in the judgement of the officer provides the level of probable cause needed to make the arrest.

3) An officer talks to victims and witnesses, collects physical evidence, and gathers all of these elements into an affidavit.  The officer takes all of this information to the State Attorney, who looks at it to try to determine if there is enough probable cause to charge with a crime.  If the State Attorney agrees, all of this is taken to a judge, and the judge makes a determination about probable cause.  If the judge determines that there is enough probable cause, he or she issues an arrest warrant, and the suspect is then arrested and charged with a crime.  In this case, it is the State Attorney and the Judge who determines if there is enough probable cause.

4) An event occurs, and the police investigate.  The State Attorney takes the information, statements and evidence, and presents it to a Grand Jury.  The Grand Jury is a group of citizens who are charged with hearing all of the prosecution’s information, hearing from the prosecution’s victims and witnesses, and seeing all of the prosecution’s evidence.  From that process, the Grand Jury decides if the person should be charged with a crime.  If they decide that the person should be charged, they issue an indictment, which is similar to a warrant issued by a judge.  With an indictment in hand, the police make the arrest.  This is the strongest manner that can be used to charge someone with a crime, since the decision to charge is made by twelve citizens rather than police or legal professionals.

After the arrest, the suspect enters the court system, where many things can happen.

It is also interesting to note that in the Constitution – the Fifth Amendment – says, in part, “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury…”  So when someone is arrested on a capital crime and held in custody, within a month or two the case is taken before a Grand Jury for consideration of an indictment.  So when someone is charged with a capital crime, the case must go to the Grand Jury.

The people who are demonstrating today don’t seem to understand these legal facts.  And there doesn’t seem to have been any effort – by the government or the media – to explain these facts to the public.  So they are left to their imagination to figure out our complex legal system, especially as it applies to cases involving police and use of force.

Police use of force is another complex legal arena.  Police obviously have the right to protect themselves and others from harm, using force to do so.  What the public doesn’t realize is that under certain circumstances, police can use force, up to and including deadly force, to stop a person who has committed, is committing or is about to commit a violent felony.  Read the applicable state law and court decisions, learn from it.


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