I know very little about all of the details in Ferguson. However, I do know quite a bit about serving on a grand jury. I was the foreman for a grand jury for 3 months a few years back. I served a total of 26 days and heard literally hundreds of cases.
Very rarely did we ever return a “no bill.” Meaning, very rarely did we ever not decide that there was probable cause (which is the grand jury requirement as opposed to reasonable doubt) and “indict” the person being prosecuted. The attorneys almost always came in with an air-tight case, and at times, I felt like we were just there as a puppet jury, churning out “true bills” left and right.
However, there were a few times when the facts in the case just didn’t add up. A few times (maybe 5 out of the hundreds) when the facts were presented and the case was handed over to the 12 of us – and we just knew that the person being prosecuted probably wasn’t guilty of the charges.
In those rare cases, we would call the attorney back in and deliver a “no bill.” It was very uncommon, and the prosecutors didn’t like it, but for the sake of justice, we just couldn’t indict the person.
The reason why so many indictments are handed down by grand juries is because cases that aren’t airtight don’t usually make it to them. 98-99% of the time, cases that come to grand juries are no brainers – the accused is probably guilty.
But when a “no bill” is handed down by a grand jury like the one in Ferguson, I tend to trust the grand jury. They’ve decided that there is not probable cause for the accused. My hunch is that the case against the officer was not airtight at all, but the pressure from the media and the community demanded that it go to the grand jury anyway.
Again, I don’t know much about the details in Ferguson, but I am confident – because of my experience – that the grand jury was correct when they handed down the rare “no bill” and did not indict the officer. Not because I know the facts – but because “no bills” are so rare and are reserved for only those times when the facts just don’t add up.