Grand Juries Almost Never Fail to Indict, But They Did in Ferguson


The St. Louis County grand jury who came out with a "No True Bill" on all five potential indictments against Ferguson PD Officer Darren Wilson did an incredibly rare thing. How rare? FiveThirtyEight reports:

Former New York state Chief Judge Sol Wachtler famously remarked that a prosecutor could persuade a grand jury to "indict a ham sandwich." The data suggests he was barely exaggerating: According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. attorneys prosecuted 162,000 federal cases in 2010, the most recent year for which we have data. Grand juries declined to return an indictment in 11 of them.

I'll do the math for you: that's 0.0000679 0.0067901 percent of the time. Yes, these numbers are federal and not state cases, so they exclude the jurisdiction of St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch. But also note, via

Robert McCullogh


"If the prosecutor wants an indictment and doesn't get one, something has gone horribly wrong," said Andrew D. Leipold, a University of Illinois law professor who has written critically about grand juries. "It just doesn't happen."

McCulloch's bizarre, rambling, at times overtly hostile press conference announcing that there would be no indictment of Officer Wilson in the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown gave some the impression that he was not an objective party in this investigation. McCulloch's ties to law enforcement could hardly be more intimate. As reported by CBS News:

The Missouri prosecutor overseeing an investigation into the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown has deep family roots among police: his father, mother, brother, uncle and cousin all worked for St. Louis' police department, and his father was killed while responding to a call involving a black suspect.

Grand juries rarely indict law enforcement officials. It's hard to imagine they'd ever indict one if the prosecutor's allegiances are as evident as McCulloch's appear to be.

(Hat tip: Andrew Fishman.)