William H. Freivogel

William H. Freivogel is director of the School of Journalism at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and a professor at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. Previously, he worked for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for 34 years, serving as assistant Washington Bureau Chief and deputy editorial editor. He covered the U.S. Supreme Court while in Washington. He is a graduate of Kirkwood High School, Stanford University and Washington University Law School. He is a member of the Missouri Bar.

falkow | Flickr

The Missouri Supreme Court’s decisive and unexpected Ferguson reforms Monday - on top of the Justice Department’s devastating critique of the town’s municipal courts last week - have created momentum toward major reform of the St. Louis County municipal courts, experts say.

Jeff Roberson | Associated Press

The Justice Department has neither the authority nor the staffing to expand its investigation of unconstitutional police and court practices from Ferguson to surrounding municipalities, legal experts say.

Attorney General Eric Holder visited Ferguson Aug. 20.
Office of U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay

The Ferguson police department and municipal court engaged in such a widespread pattern of unconstitutional conduct that it lost the trust of the people, the Justice Department concluded after a seven-month investigation.

The federal civil rights case that the Justice Department is unveiling against the Ferguson Police Department offers the town great opportunities but also poses substantial costs and risks, experts say.

gavel court justice
sxc.hu

The grand juror who wants to challenge publicly St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch’s portrayal of the Ferguson grand jury has a relatively strong First Amendment case -- if the juror can get the argument before a judge, legal experts say.

The U.S. Supreme Court threw out a Florida law that permanently barred a grand jury witness from disclosing his grand jury testimony. That same rationale may apply to grand jurors themselves, legal experts say.

Arch City Defenders executive director Thomas Harvey spoke during the last meeting of the Ferguson Commission.
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

The Missouri Supreme Court issued a new rule two weeks ago that eases the financial burden on poor people facing big fines in municipal courts. The new rule should reduce the number of people who spend time in jail for failing to pay fines. 

Darren Wilson
Undated video grab

One of the most important reforms that could grow out of the Aug. 9 killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, experts say, would be the creation of a national database containing detailed information about all police shootings, whether or not suspects are wounded or killed.

On this much experts agree. But beneath that agreement, the debate about police use of force is fraught with sharp disagreements about how important a factor race plays.

The laws governing how much force police are allowed to use has had a long, circuitous history.
Flickr | Quinn Dombrowski

Second of two parts.

Even though a St. Louis County grand jury decided not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, the case against Wilson is not entirely closed. The U.S. Department of Justice is also conducting an investigation into the Aug. 9 incident.

Protesters gather on the steps of the Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis on Wednesday, November 26, 2014.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

First of two parts.

Two grand juries in two very different cases have refused to indict white police officers for the deaths of two black men. As a result, many people are wondering if it's possible to hold police officers accountable for use of deadly force.

State and federal laws could be reformed to make it easier to punish police officers who misuse deadly force, but legal experts say those changes would face political hurdles and an unfriendly U.S. Supreme Court. 

Wikipedia

The federal government is sharply limited in what it can do to address a police killing such as the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson.

A tiny handful of allegations of police brutality are prosecuted and the burden of proof is extremely high. Courts give police the benefit of the doubt, not wanting to second-guess decisions made in the “heat of battle.”

The Justice Department also can bring a civil “pattern and practice” suit against a police department aimed at changing policies and procedures that may have contributed to a shooting.

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