Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Naturally I have been thinking about the grand jury's failure to issue a true bill in the Darren Wilson case. I’ve never done any grand jury work, but as a trial lawyer I know this: a good way to lose a case is to over-try it. Three months is a long time for a panel to consider the question of whether probable cause to believe a crime was committed exists. My former prosecutor friends tell me that one develops a relationship with a panel, and it is pretty easy to read their intentions. This could have gone in quick and easy, but instead it went in long and hard– and now the DA’s office has an anonymous Grand Jury to stand behind. The smart play would have been to go for jury nullification at trial, but nobody said they were looking for smart.

Paul Campos notes that there are some peculiar aspects of Missouri law at work here:
The relevant law here consisted of Missouri’s statute regulating the use of deadly force by police officers, as modified by Supreme Court decisions that put limits on how much freedom states can give police to use such force. On its face, Missouri law still follows the old common law rule that it’s lawful to shoot and kill a fleeing suspected felon, even if the suspect doesn’t pose an immediate danger to the police or the public. That rule was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court nearly 30 years ago, but Missouri hasn’t yet revised its statutes to reflect this. Because of that Supreme Court ruling, the grand jury in this case was instructed that—under current Missouri law—Wilson could have legally shot and killed Brown only if Wilson “reasonably believed that [Brown] was attempting to escape by the use of a deadly weapon or would endanger life or inflict serious physical injury unless arrested without delay, and [Wilson] reasonably believed that the use of deadly force was immediately necessary to effect the arrest of the offender,” to quote the standard jury instruction used in the state.
And now a word from Bob Dylan:
In the courtroom of honor, the judge pounded his gavel
To show that all’s equal and that the courts are on the level
And that the strings in the books ain’t pulled and persuaded
And that even the nobles get properly handled
Once that the cops have chased after and caught ’em
And that the ladder of law has no top and no bottom
It's all done in our name you know

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