Ferguson Readies For Grand Jury Decision
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
For more context on the legal process that's at work here, we're going to turn to NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. And Carrie, Cheryl told us earlier about the make-up of the grand jury, but tell us what more is known about them, and specifically what they're charged to do. I mean, what is it we're waiting for in terms of this decision?
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Audie, the key question here is whether these grand jurors are finding there's enough probable cause to charge Officer Darren Wilson with a crime in connection with the death of Michael Brown back on August 9 of this year. And the probable cause bar is a relatively low bar. That said, Audie, police officers - law enforcement acting in the line of duty have, based on Supreme Court precedent dating back to the '80s and beyond, a lot of legal leeway. If they feel, and a reasonable person would agree, that they were threatened in some way or that harm would come to them or others, that's a quite potent defense. We don't know much about the grand jury members themselves. They've been sifting through a lot of information, but there have been very few leaks so far.
CORNISH: So as you said, they're tasked with understanding probable cause to believe Officer Wilson committed a crime and if so, which one, right? I mean they're also tasked with that.
JOHNSON: There were numerous options here. The St. Louis county prosecutor did not make a recommendation to the grand jurors about which charge, if any, to pursue. He just laid out all the evidence and all the options - everything from second degree murder, which is knowingly causing the death of another person, to manslaughter, acting under the influence of a sudden passion or acting recklessly or with criminal negligence. And, of course, there's also the option of no charges at all. This decision does not have to be unanimous, Audie. Of the 12 grand jurors, only nine need to vote in favor.
CORNISH: And this grand jury also had access that isn't the usual access to evidence, right - and able to subpoena witnesses?
JOHNSON: The grand jurors are able to ask questions. They viewed a lot of documents. We know we heard - they heard from eyewitnesses who saw that shooting in Ferguson. They heard from the medical examiner, a pathology expert hired by lawyers for Michael Brown's family, and in a somewhat unusual step, Audie, they also heard from Officer Darren Wilson himself. We're told he testified for about four hours earlier this year.
CORNISH: We just want to remind people that we're still awaiting word from the grand jury decision out of St. Louis County. We're expecting to hear from the prosecuting attorney, Robert McCulloch soon. He's expected to make that announcement. This is NPR's justice correspondent Carrie Johnson talking with us about the legal context for the case. Carrie, thanks so much.
JOHNSON: You're welcome.
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