Legal Roundtable Reconvenes, Discusses Ferguson Grand Jury | St. Louis Public Radio

Legal Roundtable Reconvenes, Discusses Ferguson Grand Jury

Nov 24, 2014

Producer's note: Join us for a special live edition of "St. Louis on the Air" at 10 p.m. Monday, following the announcement of the grand jury decision. You can listen live.

Credit James Cridland via Flickr

As the nation waited for the Darren Wilson grand jury decision announcement on Monday, the legal roundtable reconvened to discuss issues related to Ferguson, same-sex marriage and other legal issues.

“It’s been a very long process, as everybody knows,” said Peter Joy, law professor and director of the criminal justice clinic at Washington University in St. Louis, of the grand jury process. “To be considering whether or not there’s probable cause, which is a very low standard, for such a long time, I think causes a lot of people to wonder well, what’s going on?”

From the start, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch said this grand jury would be more thorough than what is usual. Twelve grand jurors have been hearing evidence in the case since August, not long after Michael Brown was shot and killed by police Officer Wilson in Ferguson. If nine of the grand jurors agree, Wilson will be indicted.

“This is not your typical grand jury,” said William Freivogel, professor at Southern Illinois University–Carbondale’s Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. “It’s longer in time. They’re hearing all this evidence. The potential defendant, Darren Wilson, the officer, testified. Usually the suspect wouldn’t testify — would be advised by a lawyer not to testify. And then we have this promised release of grand jury materials that the St. Louis County Prosecutor, Bob McCulloch, has made.”

In October, McCulloch told Marsh that if Wilson was not indicted, information presented to the grand jury would be made public.

“If there’s an indictment of any charge, then all of the information would come out during the course of the prosecution," McCulloch said in October . “If there is no indictment, normally it’s a closed record, a closed file unless the judge agrees to release it. And the judge has told me that she will order that everything be released.”

Over the weekend, however, a court administrator said there was no order to release that information.

“Normally, the evidence before a grand jury is secret,” Freivogel said. “I guess the kinds of things that would come into play is if certain kinds of testimony was released, even if it was released without the names of the witnesses, would the witnesses still be identifiable in some way and then could they potentially be put in danger.”

Joy said statements from McCulloch and the court may be true.

“No reasonable judge is going to write a blank check,” he said. “At this point, we don’t have a decision. If it’s an indictment, it would be premature to release it. I want to see what the decision is, if I’m the judge.”

Joy, Freivogel and Mark Smith, associate vice chancellor of students at Washington Univeristy, also discussed same-sex marriage, campaign finance and ethics, the Affordable Care Act and President Barack Obama’s recent executive order on immigration. Listen for their take on these issues:

“St. Louis on the Air” discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.