The New York Times reports that the Justice Department will not bring federal civil rights charges against Darren Wilson, the white Ferguson, Missouri, police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, last August. The determination is not official yet, the Times says, but lawyers are working on a memo that explains it, which probably will be released in the next month or two.
Whatever you think of the local grand jury's conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to support state charges against Wilson (or the process that led to it), a federal case was always unlikely because it would require proof that Wilson knowingly and intentionally violated Brown's constitutional rights. 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. Even if you assume that his use of deadly force was not justified (and the evidence on that score is decidedly mixed), the most likely scenario is that he overreacted in the heat of the moment, a state of mind that would not meet the test for federal charges.
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