Would a Jury Have Convicted Darren Wilson Anyway? And What Does That Mean?


As we approached the Ferguson grand jury decision, people have inadvertently describing it as though it's a "verdict" as opposed to a decision whether to indict. I was listening to Fox Business Network's Neil Cavuto making this mistake earlier tonight, and I slipped myself and called it a "verdict" in a headline earlier today.

It was not a verdict and this grand jury decision was not intended to settle once and for all that Officer Darren Wilson was guilty of homicide (or lesser charges) when he shot Michael Brown to death. But it certainly played out that way, didn't it? St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCulloch described a grand jury that could have been confused with a full trial, though it was not. The Washington Post has a nice walk-through of how the grand jury process works in Missouri here.

Given that a grand jury had a lower threshold (probable cause) to call for an indictment and it didn't have to be unanimous, it's worth wondering whether a criminal jury would have convicted Wilson anyway if they had indicted him. Whenever the prosecution of police for abusing or killing citizens is debated, I am now almost always drawn to the Kelly Thomas case out here in Fullerton, California. Thomas's vicious beating was caught on camera and recorded, images of his brutalized face were widely spread, and two officers involved were prosecuted. They were completely exonerated.

Based on the information McCulloch described tonight it may seem unlikely Wilson would have convicted, and perhaps that would have been the right decision by a criminal jury. That raises yet another question, though: Should we be upset at the amount of deference and effort made to find reasons not to indict Wilson in this case or should we be upset that the same doesn't happen to the rest of us? Is the outrage that a grand jury didn't indict Wilson or is the outrage that the grand jury indicts just about everybody else?

Below, McCulloch details the results of the grand jury investigation:

NEXT: No Indictment From Ferguson Grand Jury. Police Officer Darren Wilson Won't Face Trial for Killing Michael Brown.

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  1. No flat-screen TV, no peace!

  2. For all intents and purposes, not indicting is a verdict.

    1. I was wondering about that. Isn’t the fact that they put as much effort into it as they did, an indication that there was enough evidence for an evidentiary trial. I mean, their mandate wasn’t to figure out guilt or innocents. I personally think they (the grand jury) thought the gravitas of the case gave them the mandate to determine guilt or innocents. Which kinda does away with our adversarial system doesn’t it.

      I think they weighed the evidence an decided guilt or Innocents. when that wasn’t their mandate.

      1. Isn’t the fact that they put as much effort into it as they did, an indication that there was enough evidence for an evidentiary trial.

        And if they had come back within a day, you would say that they were racist, the prosecutor’s toy, and hadn’t done their job. With you, the grand jury can’t win.

        More likely, it concerned them deeply that police killed a young, unarmed man, and they looked for a long time for an indictable offense and thought long and hard about whether this should go to a jury trial. That’s not an easy decision to make, and that’s why it took them a long time.

        1. Ummm. I would say that if Brown was white or green or yellow or crystal clear. I don’t think race has anything to do with it. It’s all about a complete lack of accountability for LEO’s. You are right on one point though. The grand jury can’t win when it comes to LEO’s. LEO’s are too close to the DA’s office. They work day in, day out with the DA’s office. You know, the very office that directs the Grand Jury.

          Until more states set up independent investigators for LEO involved shootings. LEO’s will continue to enjoy zero accountability. And, black, brown, and white people will continue to be gunned down in the street.

    2. Exactly. Of course it is. Unless of course this case is all about politics and, you know, not actually about justice at all. Libertarians ‘should’ fear THAT kind of bias above all else i.e. keep prosecuting until you get the answer you want.

    3. Yes, it is a verdict by definition so the author is incorrect.

      1. By definition, it is not a verdict. A verdict is determined following the presentation of evidence as well as supporting statements by both prosecution and defense in a civil or criminal trial.

  3. Don’t you hate it when you’re in such a hurry you loot the wrong size pants and have to take tbem back to exchange them?

  4. “Journalists are civics illiterate” is kind of a DOG BITES MAN story.

  5. Hey, he might not have been guilty of this specific crime, but Wilson is surely guilty of something, right? /coplogic

    1. LOL exactly. Reason is starting to sounds like that. They’re becoming hypocrites.


    Ezra Klein Verified account

    So who represented Michael Brown before the grand jury?


    1. OMG, that’s one for the permanent record.

    2. Oh, Ezra. Thanks for that.

  7. As long as a majority of people in this country blindly support the police version then we have no chance of changing the way these things are handled. How many times are police caught on video committing atrocities and still found not guilty by juries? I think the ability of prosecuters to be able to remove anyone from a jury who might think for themselves is part of the problem but the country as a whole just takes the police version as truth too often

    1. I think the ability of prosecuters to be able to remove anyone from a jury who might think for themselves

      Prosecutors can’t remove people from grand juries (and their ability to do so from petite juries is limited).

      As long as a majority of people in this country blindly support the police version then we have no chance of changing the way these things are handled.

      Twelve people listened to 70h of testimony and made a decision based on the evidence, and they were fully aware of the impact and importance of what they were doing.

      The problem isn’t our blindness, it’s yours. What exactly are you alleging? That the grand jury was stuffed with blind racists? That they were all morons while you, without having seen the evidence, have the superior insight?

  8. Blacks are hilarious. The funniest video I’ve seen in weeks.


    1. Who loves orange soda? Kel loves orange soda!


      1. Shut the fuck up, racist. I think you took a wrong turn on your way to Stormfront.

        1. What’s racist about it? Just reporting the facts, man.

        2. You have to admit, Irish, that there something amusing when people confirm stereotypes. It may be offensive, it may be sad, it may be socially counterproductive, but it may also be funny.

  9. OK, based on what I’ve seen (and we all know how that may or may not be “all” or “enough” information), I’m just not surprised at the decision. And not in my typical, indignant, cop-hating ironic way – “of COURSE they didn’t indict – he’s a COP!”

    No – based on what I heard/saw, young Mr. Brown attempted to get the cop’s gun while the cop was in the car. That, right there, gets you shot 9 out of 10. Was there another alternative? I dunno – maybe. But indict the guy?

    I’m just gonna leave it at “not surprised, and not because he’s a cop and of course the fellators let him go”. We’ll see what other info comes out.

    And the morons burning down their own fucking town? Nice tribute to Mr. Brown, assholes. I have no sympathy for the looters/vandals. None. Other citizens unable to escape that shithole? I’ll pray for you again at church next Sunday….

    1. I lose all sympathy for protesters when they start destroying and looting the things and people in their own neighborhoods. And no I dont think destroying someone elses neighborhood is good. The Koreans in L.A. that defended their stores had the answer.

      1. You assume the ones that are looting and destroying are from the neighborhood. I would bet that a large percentage are from other places.

        I will also be a significant amount of $$$ that most of the people instigating the riots are not local.

        The sad fact is, the so-called black leadership has no desire to improve race relations. If they did they would be out of a job.

        Then, we have the media breaking down the demographics of the grand jury. Why, isn’t everyone supposed to be equal, do we really need to know how many whites, blacks, men, women, etc. where on the jury?

        1. ^So much this. I live in uptown Oakland and watched things unfold in the streets last night. I also watched during the Occupy protests. The protests were peaceful (if a bit obscene) during the few hours I was outside/at a nearby bar. The only time I saw them get violent was when people arrive on BART (Bay Area transit system) with googles, masks, etc, wearing anarchist/socialist garb. These are the so-called “professional protestors” coming down from Berkeley and other “progressive” areas. They were responsible for 90+% of the violence during the Occupy movement and I’m sure a similar amount during last night’s protests in Oakland. These ones stayed much more subdued than during the Occupy movement. This seems to coincide with other organizers’ attempts to keep these “professionals” from fucking things up.

          1. Obviously, I can’t speak to the violence that occurred in other areas of the country. But I have seen rather violent clashes between protestors and police in Oakland. They always seem to be incited by out-of-town idiots who come down looking to pick a fight. I would not be surprised if that were the case elsewhere.

    2. It remains to be seen how many of the rioters are actually from Ferguson.

    3. As much as we have rightful skepticism of law enforcement shootings, taking this to the judicial system does certainly remove at least the first layer of bias: the cops investigating themselves. Of course, the D.A.’s office has a relationship with the police, but it at least penetrated the thin blue line. Yes, juries are still remarkably deferential to police action. However, all of the physical and eyewitness evidence is being released.

      I think any reasonable person who hasn’t predetermined their reaction here should conclude that this is insufficient evidence to convict in court. I don’t think it’s sufficient to indict, either. I suppose a case can be made, but even that is specious as best.

      Libertarians, in contrast to society at large, are very concerned with the rights of the accused. It’s why we react with vitriol to police abuse. But we also recognize that policing as a profession does expose one to potentially dangerous situations and that those dangerous situations may occasionally require the use of force. The presumption of innocence should be afforded the officer as much as he should’ve afforded the deceased the same.

      1. I’m not sure that I’m convinced that an LEO has (or should have) the same rights of the accused as anyone else. We certainly don’t give members of the armed forces the same extensive rights under military law. The cops have essentially proclaimed themselves to be members of paramilitary organizations. Why should they not face the same lower standard as actual members of the armed forces?

  10. I’m actually not convenience that a representative of the state can get a fair trial any more. I guess the watershed moment for me will be the rookie cop in NY. If they no bill him, I think it may actually be time to think about Emigrating to Canada.

    1. The real problem is that even if he is sent to trial he will waive his right to jury trial and be found not guilty by a judge. That is now the go to method for the police now.

    2. “convenience”? That might be a new misspelling record.

      1. Thanks. It is pretty good. But, I don’t think it rises to the level of record.

  11. “Would a Jury Have Convicted Darren Wilson Anyway? And What Does That Mean?”

    Are you English or retarded?

    1. I don’t understand this hypo either. The Grand Jury forbids the presence of the defense attorney and is essentially a prosecution free-for-all. Plus the burden is lower. So if they don’t see enough evidence of a crime, then why would another 12 people (who generally have to convict unanimously) who hear the defense case, and the prosecution has the highest burden of proof, convict?

      1. I would agree with you if Officer Wilson was private citizen Wilson. I don’t think system works so well when the prosecutors are the “defendants” co-workers. I still believe that a private citizen Wilson would have been indicted?

      2. That is, indeed, usually the case. So why was Officer Wilson allowed to present his side of the case here? I can guarantee that any non-LEO would never have been allowed that privilege in a grand jury proceeding.

  12. I read this article over three times and still couldn’t figure out the main point the author thought he was making.

    Was it:
    a) It’s not necessary over.
    b) The grand jury process is stupid.
    c) We should be upset because of bias (without bothering to ‘prove’ said bias).
    d) All of the above?
    d) Other?

    Look, Reason. Stop trying to pigeon-hole every police death into the “Police are Evil” narrative. I am just as appalled by the militarization of police, of the lack of charges against police in much more clear-cut cases than this one, of the horrible and unjustifiable deaths as a result of completely unnecessary no-knock ‘home invasions’, of illegal search and seizure, and of the general public support for a police state. But Michael Brown is not that story! The evidence (if you would bother fucking to look at it) is against you. Sometimes police actually do kill someone in self-defense. Get over it.

    1. Reason has become a shallow propaganda magazine.

    2. Amen.

      I’m an avid fan of Reason but this article is total crap.

  13. Under normal circumstances, Wilson’s case wouldn’t even have gone to a grand jury because the prosecutor would have known that he couldn’t win a court case. The grand jury was presented with this case largely because politics demanded it; if the prosecutor hadn’t done this, there would have been a political firestorm. And the grand jury did its job, protecting a citizen from going through the troubles of a full trial for political reasons.

    When a prosecutor takes a normal case to the grand jury, he’s pretty convinced he can win and none of those considerations apply.

  14. From the evidence presented it’s pretty obvious that Wilson should never have even been the subject of a grand jury. The victim was anything but inocent and apparently was doped up, making comparisons to other cases, as is being done here, rather stupid. The only reason any of the Black comunity paid any attention to this particular Black shooting was the fact that the shooter was White. That is patently obvious. Ferguson is a good example of just how thoroughly racist Blacks can be. Martial law should have been declared before the verdict was read, and a curfew established. Prior behavior of the protestors was sufficient reason to expect the holocaust that followed. Racism is alive and well in Ferguson.

    1. Well said.

    2. One thing I do not understand is why it was announced in the evening. Wouldn’t it have been smarter to announce it at, say, 9 AM? Don’t give the protesters cover of dark, don’t give the Popos the cover of dark, and, if there is a problem (with either side), there will be ample time for national guard/DoJ/Curfew/TacNuke to deal with the situation.

  15. “the amount of deference and effort made to find reasons not to indict”

    Seriously WTF?

    I come to Reason to find logic and… reason… Not unsubstantiated bullshit. There is no evidence the system, grand jury or anybody else avoided coming to a just conclusion, i.e. that there wasn’t adequate reason to prosecute officer Wilson. Period.

    In fact, the evidence suggests otherwise, that charges were only considered due to political pressures and racism.

    Reason does a great job shining the light on real police misconduct. But at the same time, it’s important to realize the police are not all bad and that some situations are murky or gray. We do need police. And Officer Wilson deserves the same presumption of innocence as anybody else. Unfortunately in this case, the police officer’s rights have been abused.

    1. The point of a grand jury isn’t to come to a “just conclusion,” and this one was run very much counter to type.

      McCulloch in effect conducted a one-sided trial before the grand jury, with a focus on not indicting Wilson. It was a sham, and it’s sole purpose was to give him cover for not indicting Wilson.

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  17. The killers of Kelly Thomas weren’t exonerated. They were acquitted. It was a travesty of a verdict, but it wasn’t an exoneration.

    The reporting on Wilson grand jury has been terrible, and one has to go to the legal blogs to find intelligent commentary on how rigged this one was to cover McCulloch’s decision to not indict Wilson. There’s also been crap-all discussing how low a bar probable cause actually is.

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