An Arraignment is a formal reading of a criminal charging document in the presence of the defendant to inform the defendant of the charges against him or her. Accordingly, in response to arraignment, the accused (defendant) is expected to enter a plea, such as guilty or not guilty, or through their defense counsel, enter peremptory pleas laying out reasons why a trial cannot and should not proceed. A judge then determines if there is adequate evidence to bind the defendant over for a jury trial. To save time, it is not unusual for a Superior court judge to convene a criminal “Grand Jury” that hears prosecution evidence for why the accused should face charges and be judged by a jury of their peers. A grand jury does not decide guilt or innocence; just if there is enough evidence for a jury trial.
Apparently, the St. Louis County Prosecutor, Bob McCulloch, tasked with setting out reasons and evidence why an accused murderer, Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, should be indicted and bound over for trial decided to use the grand jury to mount a robust defense for the accused murderer. Not only did the prosecutor succeed in acquitting the murderer Darren Wilson, he convinced the grand jury to indict, try, and convict the unarmed murder victim Michael Brown.
Throughout the reporting on the progress of the St. Louis county grand jury looking into whether the prosecution had enough evidence to indict, and hold over for trial, murderer Darren Wilson, there were “rumors” that Wilson gave extensive testimony in front of the grand jury against the unarmed African American teen he gunned down. The rumors were so incredibly unbelievable that one could not help but think they were just that; fallacious rumors spread by an ignorant press. As a citizen that has sat on two separate, year-long, criminal grand juries 12 years apart, it was beyond comprehension that a defendant would ever testify in front of the grand jury. It just does not, and never does, happen; at least not over the course of 27 different cases before the grand jury this author sat on. At best, and at the prosecuting district attorney’s discretion, they may present exculpatory evidence that are “guesses” at what a defense attorney will present to convince the trial jury the accused is innocent; exculpatory evidence is unusual, and not mandatory, and precisely why a grand jury almost always indicts the accused.
What is curious, indeed, is why the members of the St. Louis grand jury did not immediately appeal to the St. Louis county presiding Superior Court judge and report that the prosecutor was presenting evidence in the form of the accused’s testimony that Michael Brown was on trial and guilty. Prior to hearing evidence for why the accused should stand trial, a prosecutor’s job is informing members of the jury their only job is deciding if there is sufficient evidence to send the defendant to trial; not to determine guilt or innocence, and particularly not to find the accused not guilty.
Since the announcement that the grand jury indicted, tried, and convicted murder victim Michael Brown and found Darren Wilson innocent of gunning down the unarmed teenager, myriad legal experts, including the National Bar Association, have railed on the decision going so far as to call on the Justice Department to conduct a legitimate investigation. In fact, according to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, in a 1992 Supreme Court case he elucidated that the role of a grand jury for hundreds of years has not been “to enquire … upon what foundation [the charge may be] denied,’ or otherwise to try the suspect’s defenses, but only to examine ‘upon what foundation [the charge] is made’ by the prosecutor. As a consequence, neither in this country nor in England has the suspect under investigation by the grand jury ever been thought to have a right to testify or to have exculpatory evidence presented.”
Compared to Scalia’s explanation of what a grand jury, and prosecutor’s, job is, it is worth looking at McCulloch’s final instructions before deliberations. He said, “You must find probable cause to believe that Darren Wilson did not act in lawful self-defense and you must find probable cause to believe that Darren Wilson did not use lawful force in making an arrest. If you find those things, which is kind of like finding a negative, you cannot return an indictment on anything or true bill unless you find both of those things. Because both are complete defenses to any offense and they both have been raised in his, in the evidence.” These were not comments of a prosecutor seeking an indictment, but of defense counsel seeking “upon what foundation [the charges may be] denied.”
From the start of the sham investigation into the racially motivated, cold-blooded, murder of unarmed Michael Brown, the prosecutor was Hell-bent on acquitting Darren Wilson and indicting, trying, and convicting Michael Brown; Wilson executed Brown prior to the grand jury’s indictment, trial, and conviction. What is telling about the rampant racism and hatred toward people of color in America is the high level of support for Wilson and vile remarks against the unarmed murder victim, Michael Brown that followed the Wilson acquittal.
The only consolation, and it will turn out to be just that, for Michael Brown’s family, the African American community in and around Ferguson, and sickened Americans across the nation is that they are not the only people outraged at the “show trial” to acquit Wilson the grand jury put on. Without a federal investigation, the entire world will know what a majority of Americans already are aware of; like everything in America, the criminal justice system, including the courts, are heavily tilted against people of color.