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: