U.S. Attorney Gen. Eric Holder: Michael Brown Case Not Over

Attorney General Eric Holder U.S. Department of Justice

A grand jury in the Michael Brown case has decided not to charge Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed Michael Brown, with any crime (see below for an explanation of what this means). Though some believe the failure to even charge the officer with a crime (let alone convict him) means the system has failed, this assessment may be premature. In fact, the system is still in process, as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder reminds us.

In response to the grand jury’s decision, Holder, head of the U.S. Department of Justice, released a statement tonight explaining that the Department of Justice has been investigating the case independently of the local police. Holder assured that “even at this mature stage of the investigation, we have avoided prejudging any of the evidence.  And although federal civil rights law imposes a high legal bar in these types of cases, we have resisted forming premature conclusions.”

Further, Holder asserts that the Department is working to improve the system across the country, as well as the Ferguson Police Department’s operations:

“The Department will continue to work with law enforcement, civil rights, faith and community leaders across the country to foster effective relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve and to improve fairness in the criminal justice system overall.  In addition, the Department continues to investigate allegations of unconstitutional policing patterns or practices by the Ferguson Police Department.”

Holder also urged peace, saying “Though there will be disagreement with the grand jury’s decision not to indict, this feeling should not lead to violence.”

If you aren’t sure what just happened Monday night and what it means, here are some basics.

What is a grand jury?

A grand jury is a group of members of the public, much like a trial jury, selected to determine whether there is enough evidence to “indict” someone, meaning to charge that person with a crime. The proceeding is sort of a pre-trial, in which the prosecutor shows all the evidence it has against the accused, and the grand jury decides whether the evidence justifies putting the accused through a full trial.

Not all states use grand juries, and some do only for certain crimes. The alternative is for the prosecutor to simply decide to charge someone with a crime or not.

Why haven’t we heard or seen anything from the grand jury proceeding?

Grand juries are generally supposed to be kept secret in order to prevent potentially false accusations or “trumped up” cases from unfairly damaging a possibly innocent person’s reputation. However, due to the highly controversial and public nature of this case, the prosecutor has released the transcripts from the grand jury proceedings.

The transcripts should be VERY interesting, and I will be looking through them over the next couple days. Let me know what you think after reading them.

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