I don't know how many people that watch me have been paying attention to current events but recently there was a decision in the case in Ferguson, MO of the shooting death of Michael Brown by a police officer. The case was reviewed by a grand jury that voted not to proceed to a standard trial. Some people are calling this a travesty of justice however I'm going to tell you why it isn't.
Here's how a grand jury works, since it's nothing like the jury that gets put together for the actual courtroom trial. There will be the occasional assumption from me based on the differences in the process between what I went through and what it sounds like they did for this specific case.
The selection process: They draw a pool of potential candidates from people around the county as the jury pool, from that pool they whittle it down to 12 people, that's how it went for me and the process is probably similar in Missouri. For me it took a few hours during the morning you were supposed to report for the jury pool.
The deliberation process: The jury pool for Ferguson was probably called just for that one specific case, since it was a major case. In my case it was a series of smaller cases that never get any press going through the court system everyday. Now what happens when a case is presented all of the available evidence is presented with it as well as the witnesses, which did happen in Ferguson. In my case it was usually someone reading the police report on the incident and maybe the officer involved coming in to give a statement and answer some questions. In the Missouri case it took weeks to sort through everything since it sounds like there were plenty of documents, multiple autopsies performed, and many many witnesses to hear from. For me it was really minor stuff where you heard everything within a time span of 15-30 minutes. Of course after you've heard everything the jury needs time to talk it over and have people present a case either for or against the case going to trial. If people bring up concerns during that time they can compare notes on what witnesses said or what the evidence looked like, I'm not sure if the grand jury out there could call witnesses back in or review evidence again after it is initially presented but I think the group I was in could do that with our cases.
The final decision: If you were watching and you heard "no true bill", that means the case ended with the grand jury. That's legalese for no. The legalese for yes would be "true bill". It sounds like the grand jury out there had 6 options for their decision, one of five separate charges that would be filed against the officer or there's no case. Based on the evidence they went with no as everyone has the chance to see since the 24 hour news networks have wall to wall coverage. For my case it actually turned into three options: yes for the case with the charge that was applied when everything was being put together, no there's no case, or as we found out partway through no but if they re-file it under a different charge. With that last one in my example there was a case that was set up as a felony charge, we agreed that something should be done but felt the felony was a bit much. So we asked the guy running the grand jury (I think it was the DA but I don't remember) if we could say no but have them refile it under the misdemeanor version of the charge and he said yes. We only wound up doing that once.
So what now? In Ferguson all that's left to do is the rioting and possibly other cases against the officer and/or the police department. If the grand jury rejects the case it is the opinion of the people there that the evidence is not strong enough to go to court, it would be a waste of time. Now I know some people are wondering how the people in that grand jury voted, keep wondering. If that grand jury is anything like the one I served on the only people who know how the voting went were those 12 people, grand jury deliberations are done with no witnesses present, the only thing that goes on the record is the end result. The only thing that gets recorded is the final yes or no vote.
Now should people be worried about getting picked for grand jury duty? No, not at all. Basically all you're doing is helping the judicial system along by deciding which trials are worthwhile and which one are a waste of the court's time. And don't be like some of the idiots in the group I was with, if you are on a grand jury and decide a case should move forward you are not automatically condemning a person to prison. All you're doing is saying the case does have some merit and should move forward, it is left to the lawyers for both sides of the case to determine if any kind of punishment should be handed out. Some of the people I worked with had convinced themselves that by saying yes they were dooming people to prison time in a summary trial or something equally useless. Some people also decided to be stupid about finding out sentences for some of the charges causing the whole group to be dismissed, kinda pissed me off when that happened too.
The worst part is some people think that this case should've gone all the way through. However the people who say that think that "justice will be served" when the officer is on death row regardless if Missouri still has the death penalty or not, that is not fair. What is fair is the grand jury process that every other person in the state of Missouri goes through, with a decision made by a random group of people pulled together to debate the issue and see if there is a case there.
Hope this helps.