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Will lawyers exercise the power of the blog on Ferguson?


Will lawyers across the country openly speak up regarding the Ferguson Missouri grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting of Michael Brown?

Do they agree with the prosecutor’s decision to seek a grand jury indictment? Disagree? Agree or disagree with the grand jury decision? Would the result have been different in the case of a white man? Have other insight or commentary?

Until now, mainstream media has held the power of the pen and microphone. No longer, there are thousands of lawyers, in large and small law firms, who have the power of the blog.

But will lawyers with knowledge of criminal and civil rights matters exercise the power they have. Or will they stand idly and politically correct by.

Speaking your mind can offend some people. Some lawyers frown on it as it relates to business development.

Earlier this evening watching the prosecuting attorney read and explain the grand jury decision I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. I tweeted:

Disappointed. How do you shoot to kill unarmed shoplifter 150 ft from police car even if scuffle at car before? #Ferguson

A few minutes later, another.

Why can’t unarmed man be tackled, or at most, tasered? Scale fence, run at White House you get tackled & arrested. #Ferguson

538’s Ben Casselman (@bencasselman) reports that it is incredibly rare for a grand jury to do what Ferguson’s just did.

Former New York state Chief Judge Sol Wachtler famously remarked that a prosecutor could persuade a grand jury to “indict a ham sandwich.” The data suggests he was barely exaggerating: According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. attorneys prosecuted 162,000 federal cases in 2010, the most recent year for which we have data. Grand juries declined to return an indictment in 11 of them.

The exception are cases against a police officer.

A recent Houston Chronicle investigation found that “police have been nearly immune from criminal charges in shootings” in Houston and other large cities in recent years. In Harris County, Texas, for example, grand juries haven’t indicted a Houston police officer since 2004; in Dallas, grand juries reviewed 81 shootings between 2008 and 2012 and returned just one indictment. Separate research by Bowling Green State University criminologist Philip Stinson has found that officers are rarely charged in on-duty killings, although it didn’t look at grand jury indictments specifically.

Why is that? In this case, a lawyer on Facebook tonight thought the prosecutor stacked the deck by presenting everything to a grand jury without making a recommendation.

In a normal circumstance where a cop shoots an unarmed teenager multiple times, the cop would be indicted, or a prosecutor would ask a grand jury to return an indictment, based on the standard of probable cause, and the cop would then be entitled to the presumption of innocence in a trial where the state would have to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Convening a grand jury w/o making a recommendation (where the cop gets to testify in a secret proceeding) seems like a good way to avoid an indictment. How many accused murderers get this kind of treatment?

Another lawyer disagreed with my comments about the officer using less than deadly force by tackling Michael Brown.

Unarmed 300 lb dude who just robbed a store, high on pot, punched you in face and tried to grab gun and was bum rushing you? Risk tackling him and then he gets control over pistol? You can’t be serious???

This is the type of discussion and debate you expect from lawyers. We do have more knowledge on criminal matters than the average citizen.

Why not have a public debate across blogs and social media? People will agree and disagree with us, possibly even partners in the same law firms who’d like each other to withhold opinions on controversial matters.

Remaining silent leaves the public to fill in the voids from what they hear on television, something that’s become almost entertainment with “celebrity lawyers.” This only leads to further erosion of the public’s confidence in our legal system.

I’m hoping lawyers speak up this time around — and exercise the power of the blog.

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