The “Man” vs. Grand Jury
Some in Ferguson, Missouri are upset with the grand jury process, mostly because the grand jury didn’t charge Officer Wilson with a crime for the shooting death of Michael Brown. That same crowd likewise blames the DA for even letting the grand jury decide this case. They claim he should have made the decision himself.
I, however, never, ever fault the grand jury. I love the grand jury. An attack on the grand jury is an attack on the foundations of the American justice system, the best in the world.
What I love about Georgia’s grand jury system is that it beats having “The Man” decide things. In Medieval times, the King decided disputes. Kings grew tired of having to travel all over the place so the King appointed people to serve locally. Such was the creation of the Grand Jury.
Our Founding Fathers incorporated the grand jury into our judicial system. The idea that “The Man”, whoever that might be, could solely and exclusively charge someone with a crime, was contrary to the notion of our forefathers that the people would collectively run the country.
All I know about the grand jury comes from my time as district attorney, but what I found was that grand jurors take their duties incredibly seriously as they understand that charges against citizens will flow through them. When you take 23 people, from all walks of life, economic standing, race, creed, religion and gender, you get a melting pot of the county. Missouri’s grand jury was only 12 persons, but the creation of that grand jury was the same as Georgia’s.
We take 23 people, most of whom don’t know each other, and put them in a room where they have their duty explained to them. When that happens, I believe that something incredible happens. Those grand jurors become the most important people in the county, but not individually, instead it is a collective power. Individually they only have one vote, but together they have a vote that can determine the fate of the accused.
I found that grand juries did not care about the political repercussions of their decision. They care not whether the accused is rich or poor. Black or white. Christian or Muslim. Immigrant or citizen. Identifying information like that is seldom even known or discussed, as it matters not. Wanting race or status to matter to a grand jury seems repugnant to the notion of equality under the law, does it not?
I don’t know what happened on the streets of Ferguson that fateful day. I know that a grand jury listened to all the evidence presented and determined that no criminal charges would follow. I’ve heard it said that a DA could indict a ham sandwich. Maybe. If the ham sandwich did something wrong. But I had the grand jury tell me more than once that there was insufficient evidence to charge someone. When that happened, I either worked to find more evidence or accepted their answer.
The people of Ferguson Missouri should do the same.
Kelly Burke, master attorney, former district attorney and magistrate judge, is engaged in private practice where he focuses on personal injury cases. These articles are not designed to give legal advice, but are designed to inform the public about how the law affects their daily lives. Contact Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org to comment on this article or suggest articles about the law that you’d like to see.