As the country is “semi-shocked” by the announcement of no indictment being brought against Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting and killing of Mike Brown in August, let’s take a moment to understand exactly what an indictment is and why/how it is brought against an individual for a crime. Pursuant to the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution:
“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
By definition, an indictment is a written accusation of one or more persons of a crime or misdemeanor, presented to, and preferred upon oath or affirmation by a grand jury.
Essentially, an indictment puts a person who is alleged to have committed a crime on notice that they are officially being charged so they may be arrested and start to develop a defense for the crime they have been accused of committing.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
Upon an accusation or allegation of a person committing a felony, a grand jury convenes to determine if the alleged criminal should be brought upon charges. Evidence is presented by the District Attorney/Prosecutor of the jurisdiction in which the crime was committed. The grand jury does not determine whether the alleged is guilty or not, but they do determine based upon a standard of “probable cause” whether or not a crime actually took place. Evidence introduced to the grand jury will only include key facts surrounding the incident.
The grand jury in Missouri consists of twelve members, of which, nine have to agree to an indictment being brought against the alleged before charges are brought for any crime committed. A “true bill’ will be brought against the accused should the nine members of the grand jury agree there is probably cause.
As it pertains to the Mike Brown incident, apparently the grand jury, based upon the testimony of witnesses and other key evidence presented, did not believe that there is any sort of “probability” that Darren Wilson committed a crime.
Honestly, I stopped listening to the press conference providing an explanation as to the evidence presented and proffering the reasons why an indictment was not brought against Wilson. Probable cause (i.e- reasonable belief) is very low on the legal totem pole as it relates to evidence needed to ascertain if something criminal in nature has occurred. The fact that this legal standard was not reached for this occurrence is difficult to grasp.
HOW DOES THIS AFFECT YOU?
If you or someone close to you is indicted for a serious crime, this means that a grand jury believes there’s enough evidence that you committed the crime charged. Also, if you’ve already been arrested, the criminal trial process then begins at that very moment of arrest. If you haven’t been arrested, a warrant will be issued for your arrest upon an issuance of an indictment. If the grand jury doesn’t think there’s probable cause, they’ll return a “no bill.” If the grand jury returns with a “no bill” finding you will be released from custody if you’ve been arrested already.
Rashida Maples, Esq. is Founder and Managing Partner of J. Maples & Associates (www.jmaplesandassociates.com). She has practiced Entertainment, Real Estate and Small Business Law for 9 years, handling both transactional and litigation matters. Her clients include R&B Artists Bilal and Olivia, NFL Superstar Ray Lewis, Fashion Powerhouse Harlem’s Fashion Row and Hirschfeld Properties, LLC.