Michael Brown Shooting

The Improbability of Federal Charges Against Darren Wilson


Yahoo News

If Darren Wilson had been indicted, he probably would have been acquitted, since crucial questions about his deadly encounter with Michael Brown—questions on which the police officer's self-defense claim hinges—remain unresolved. The physical evidence is ambiguous, and eyewitnesses contradict each other on important details such as who initiated the violence, whether Wilson fired at Brown as he fled, and whether Brown was trying to surrender or trying to attack Wilson. That does not necessarily mean the grand jury was right to reject criminal charges against Wilson, since the standard for an indictment, probable cause, is much lower than the standard for conviction, proof beyond a reasonable doubt. But if a state homicide charge would have been difficult to prove, convicting Wilson in federal court would be nearly impossible.

After the grand jury's decision was announced, Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department is still investigating the shooting. But he noted that "federal civil rights law imposes a high legal bar in these types of cases." The relevant statute is Title 18, Section 242, which makes it a federal crime to "willfully" deprive someone of his constitutional rights "under color of any law." If death results, this crime can be punished by a life sentence or even by execution. But it requires a specific intent to violate someone's rights, and there is little evidence that Wilson had such an intent.

Assuming that Wilson's shooting of Brown was not legally justified, the most likely scenario is that he acted out of anger, unreasonable fear, or both in the heat of the moment during a brief encounter when there was no time to form the sort of intent required by the civil rights statute. (There would have been a similar problem in convicting Wilson of first-degree murder, which requires premeditation.) Last month The Washington Post reported that "Justice Department investigators have all but concluded they do not have a strong enough case to bring civil rights charges against Darren Wilson." The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights notes that "very few cases have resulted in investigation and prosecution" under 18 USC 242, partly because of "the evidentiary requirement where the accused officer's specific intent to violate a federally protected right must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt."

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

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. The evidence is not nearly as ambiguous as you say. The forensic evidence already established Brown wasn't shot as he fled, among other things.

    Yes, cops have killed people without good reason and gotten away with it. But this isn't one of those cases. If a thug attacks a cop, goes for his gun, then comes back charging, he should expect to get shot.

    1. But can an armed cop who is not cornered really be in reasonable fear for their lives from any unarmed person? If Brown charged, Wilson could have retreated. He knew backup was coming. In fact the prosecutor said backup arrived immediately after the shooting.

      1. I defy you to stand there and allow a 300 lb man to beat you hoping backup will show up in enough time to keep your head from being bashed in. I rarely agree with the police and generally believe they are lying but this is like asking the police to shoot people in the leg or arm instead of using deadly force. I don't think we should be obligated to flee instead of defending ourselves so I think the police should have the same benefit. I just don't think they should have qualified immunity or special benefits.

      2. One should not be expected to retreat from an assailant. Whether that person is a citizen or an agent of the state. This is crap.

        As others have commented, there are plenty of instances to get on the police or federal agents, but this isn't one of them. Why not focus on actual instances of unjustified killings by police? It isn't that hard to find one.

      3. It gets tiring to keep hearing about "unarmed" Brown. It doesn't require a gun to be a deadly threat. There is no principle, and no law, that requires you can only shoot someone in self-defense if they have a gun.

    2. You can separate the intelligent people from the retards by seeing who is choosing to die on this fully retarded hill.

  2. I have never, ever liked the "He escaped local/state charges, so let's get him on federal charges" thing. It may not be officially double jeopardy, but it sure feels like it.

    1. The "Hate Crime" that the feds usually go for in cases like this are what bothers me the most. A hate crime is by definition prosecuting someone for their thoughts or beliefs. Murder shouldn't be more of a crime because the perp didn't like the race of the victim.

      1. +1

        I have argued this with many liberals. I don't care if someone kills me for the color of my skin or the color of my tie. I don't care if it was as part of a robbery or the guy just decided to kill the first person he saw. I'm still dead.

        The only way motive should be a factor is in terms of degree: 1st degree vs 2nd degree homicide vs. manslaughter

  3. "The physical evidence is ambiguous"
    I'm not following this obsessively, which I think actually gives me a bit more clarity but... how is it ambiguous? My understanding is they found blood in the car, autopsy showed Brown had a wound on his hand at close range, and not shot in the back as was claimed early on. As well as multiple witnesses supporting Wilson's version of events. I'm not seeing how they'd be able to convict on murder or manslaughter given that.

  4. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do...... ?????? http://www.jobsfish.com

  5. This whole discussion was over when the dead guy's blood was found inside the patrol car. If someone is reaching in to your car, you are probably being attacked.

    It was a whole different discussion before that piece of evidence came out.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.