Grand jury process largely secret in Missouri - | WBTV Charlotte

Grand jury process largely secret in Missouri


A grand jury could decide by mid-October whether Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson was justified in shooting Michael Brown six times.

Brown, 18, wasn't armed. He had just punched a store clerk and stolen a box of cigars, but Wilson stopped Brown and his friend because they were walking in the street.

The grand jury in St. Louis County was impaneled in May and ends in October. Prosecutors will hope to get a decision before a new grand jury is selected.

Grand juries divided attorneys.

"Some things are clear when it comes to grand jury proceedings," said defense attorney Matt O'Connor. "The lines get blurry when you ask about fairness."

Prosecutors control who gets to testify before a grand jury unlike a regular trial when the defense gets to cross examine witnesses and call its on witnesses.

Former Jackson County Executive Katheryn Shields and her husband, Phil Carderalla, were indicted by a federal grand jury. Carderalla, an attorney, pleaded with federal prosecutors to allow him to speak to the grand jury. He said that his testimony would prevent indictments.

Prosecutors refused, and indictments were handed down. Once the trial jury heard the couple's side, they were acquitted.

"It's a lot easier to have a grand jury proceeding because you don't have a defense attorney asking questions of the witnesses," O'Connor said. "You don't even have the person accused in there."

Grand jury proceedings are secret in Missouri.

But that doesn't mean the defense is in the dark, said Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker.

"When I have used the process for an investigation, the entire transcript was turned over to the defendant," Baker said.

She emphasized that grand jurors are independent of prosecutors. Unlike regular juries, grand jurors can ask questions.

"I can't think of a much fairer way than the community decided a community's case," Baker said.

O'Connor said grand juries can allow prosecutors to wash their hands of accountability.

"I think it allows a certain amount of rubber stamping," he said. "We don't know what they presented."

For example, Baker's office presented to a grand jury the case of an off-duty Kansas City police officer who fatally shot an off-duty firefighter. The grand jury issued a no-true bill, which effectively clears the officer of wrongdoing. But the public will never know the evidence presented to grand jurors, which could clear up some questions about the Dec. 1. shooting. 

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