The PJ Tatler

Why Is the Ferguson Grand Jury Taking So Long?

Grand jury deliberations are as secretive as the conclave of cardinals who elect the pope. Unlike trial juries, which can be sequestered, grand juries live and work in the community, meeting several times a month to hear witnesses and weigh evidence. They are fully aware of the situation in their communities and what’s at stake with their decision.

You can imagine the pressure on the Ferguson grand jury as they are exposed to threats of violence from thugs, as well as pleas for “justice” from more peaceful advocates. And while there may, indeed, be an intimidation factor from those who threaten to riot and loot, you would hope they ignore outside forces and render their decision based on the facts.

So why has it taken so long? CNN’s Steve Almasy explains that it’s a matter of the time the grand jury spends on the case and the fact that the prosecutor has given them all the evidence he has. Normally, a prosecutor will withhold as much ammunition as he can so as not to give the defense a heads up on what he has until he absolutely has to. But in this case, prosecutor Robert McCulloch wanted the grand jury to have everything.

Almasy explains that the grand jury usually only meets once a week, although in the Brown case, “the panel is allowed to meet on days when all 12 jurors can get together. Once agreed upon, the schedule is given to the prosecuting attorney’s office.” So, it’s more often than once a week but less than 5 days a week.

McCulloch told CNN’s Ana Cabrera that it had taken longer than expected to get some of the witnesses in front of the grand jury.

The grand jury meets in secret, so it is impossible to know whether all the evidence has been presented and all the witnesses have testified. One possibility is the grand jury wanted to hear from a witness again.

Another scenario is that the grand jurors took a break before starting their deliberations.

McCulloch has told CNN that if there is no indictment, he will seek to publicly release all evidence in the case.

Paul Fox, St. Louis County’s director of judicial administration, sent a statement to media on Sunday that said that a judge must approve such a request and that the court will have to “analyze the need for maintaining secrecy of the records with the need for public disclosure of the records.”

There are several possible outcomes to the grand jury’s deliberations:

The grand jury is deciding whether Wilson should be charged with any one of several possible crimes, including: first-degree murder, second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter or involuntary manslaughter, said Ed Magee, spokesman for the prosecuting attorney’s office.

The grand jury can issue an indictment on any of those four charges, and it also has the option of adding a charge of armed criminal action, authorities said.

At the same time, the grand jury will receive the Missouri statutes for self-defense and the police use of deadly force. It may choose not to indict Wilson.

Once it has heard all testimony and reviewed the evidence, the grand jury determines whether there is probable cause a crime or crimes have been committed. If that is the case, a “true bill” is found and an indictment is issued. If no true bill is found, then there is no charge.

All sorts of theories have been floated for why the grand jury is taking so long. But absent any leaks or evidence, all we can do is sit tight and wait, hoping they get it right — wherever you come down on the issues.