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St. Louis attorney Pamela Meanes is president of the National Bar Association, the oldest and largest national association of African-American attorneys and judges in the U.S.
She has concerns with how St. Louis County D.A. Robert McCulloch handled the Ferguson grand jury process, and joins Here & Now’s Lisa Mullins to explain why.
On Monday night, McCulloch announced that the grand jury had decided not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American 18-year-old.
The shooting in August sparked months of protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and demonstrations again turned violent after the grand jury’s decision.
On grand jury proceedings
“When you think about a grand jury process, that process is not a jury trial. It is an audience for — similar to the preliminary hearing before the judge, is an audience for the prosecutor to present a case that says ‘we believe is worthy of indictment, here’s the evidence that proves that.’ And it’s a solid airtight case because the evidence is really controlled by the prosecutor. That’s not to say that the grand jury can’t ask for witnesses or ask questions, but typically the prosecutor controls the process. Typically a defendant doesn’t testify in that proceeding because the prosecutor’s main goal as the advocate for the state is to administer justice and to get a charge, otherwise he wouldn’t be bringing it before the grand jury.”
On the significance of Darren Wilson testifying before the grand jury
“It’s highly unusual in this because in a grand jury proceeding, your attorney is not allowed to go into the room with you, which means you’re giving up your constitutional right to right of counsel. Your counsel can be outside of the room, so that means statements and everything you say can be held against you. That’s why most defendants don’t testify in a grand jury proceeding because you don’t want to do anything to incriminate yourself. I’ve talked to individuals that have been prosecutors for years and they say only under circumstances when there is an assurance that the prosecutor is not going to go after the defense witness or that they’re not going to put them in a position where they would give up their right that they feel comfortable to go in the room. I don’t know that any of that happened here, but the fact that you have the witness there and the only one that’s controlling the questions to the witness is the prosecutor and you look at the questions that were asked. As an individual who’s tried cases, I like Lisa Bloom, I love cross-examination because you can make your case with their witness and it appears to me it was very strange that his side of the story was given in a way that wasn’t challenged, didn’t appear to be challenged at all.”
On what should happen next
“I would say to people, don’t second-guess the grand jury. Look at the process and procedure and see whether or not that process yielded something which citizens, because we said at the beginning of this that the real issue is restoring trust, and if the process did not yield that we have to question why it got there.”