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Michael Brown Case Puts Attention On Grand Jury

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

St. Louis University law professor Susan McGraugh has also been analyzing the documents released by prosecutor Robert McCulloch. And she's here to talk with us now. Welcome to the program.

SUSAN MCGRAUGH: Thank you.

CORNISH: Now, earlier today the family of Michael Brown held a news conference. And one of the family attorneys, Benjamin Crump, had a lot of criticism, obviously, for the prosecutor here. He said a first-year law student could have done more in terms of cross-examining Wilson. I want to get to that idea in a moment, but here's more from Benjamin Crump.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BENJAMIN CRUMP: Where was it vetted? Where was his veracity ever challenged? Where was his credibility ever challenged when you watch those four hours that he got to give a speech to this grand jury?

CORNISH: Is there usually cross-examination in grand jury proceedings? Help us understand this criticism and what we've just heard in the way of Darren Wilson's testimony.

MCGRAUGH: So in a typical grand jury proceeding, the prosecutor comes in and presents only evidence that would point to a criminal defendant's guilt. They're normally short proceedings, but there's none of this cross-examination that we count on in jury trials in order to establish the truth. You know, we are a nation based on a justice system that thinks the truth is found when two parties battle it out according to the rules of court.

That doesn't happen in a grand jury proceeding. In a grand jury proceeding, only the prosecutor puts on witnesses and only one side asks questions. That's what Benjamin Crump is complaining about - that had there really been someone in the grand jury room to ask pointed questions of Officer Wilson and to impeach his testimony, that it would have looked much differently in front of the grand jury, and perhaps they would've had a different verdict.

CORNISH: Does what emerged from all this look like a coherent narrative to you, or is there just so much conflicting information that you have a grand jury that, in this case, decided a case couldn't move forward or that it shouldn't move forward?

MCGRAUGH: Right. You know, I think, as Bob McCulloch pointed out, a lot of the forensic evidence - the physical evidence supports Darren Wilson's account. Specifically, I know your reporter discussed the fact that Michael Brown was not running away when he was shot, the evidence that his hand was injured. I think it's also important to note that there's some evidence of Michael Brown's blood within the police car, which means that, at least at some point, he did have part of his body in the police car. Those facts all support self-defense by Officer Wilson.

CORNISH: What misconceptions are there about the role of the grand jury? Or what questions should be raised about how a grand jury was used in this case?

MCGRAUGH: Well, I think the big problem is that a grand jury was used properly in this case, but in a way no one else has benefited from except for Officer Wilson. By Bob McCulloch's own admission, this is the only time he's used a grand jury in this way. You know, a normal criminal defendant would have been charged before their case went to grand jury, and because they were charged, would've either had to wait for the grand jury to finish while they were in jail or would have had to post a bond.

That wasn't done here. Officer Wilson was not charged. He was free to do whatever he pleased while the grand jury was meeting. I think there's some resentment by parties in the community who see this whole procedure as being one that benefited Darren Wilson while normal criminal defendants were not given these opportunities.

CORNISH: What kinds of questions have you been asked about this case, whether just people on the street or your students?

MCGRAUGH: Oh my gosh, a lot. You know, I guess it surprised me to a certain extent how little people understood about the grand jury process. I don't know that people understood that it was secret. When I tell people, well, the defendant doesn't get to go to a grand jury. Of course, Officer Wilson did get to go, but typically criminal defendants don't get to go to grand jury. I can't insist, well, you know what? My client's innocent and he wants to put his evidence on a grand jury.

People don't know that this is a very one-sided process and that the criminal defendant really doesn't have an opportunity to offer their evidence at this level - at this lower level, so that they may have to wait for a trial, you know, months or a year or, in the worst cases, years, without getting to present their side of the story.

CORNISH: Susan McGraugh. She's a law professor at St. Louis University and a practicing defense attorney. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

MCGRAUGH: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.