Everything You Need to Know About the Ferguson Grand Jury

Who is deciding the fate of Police Officer Darren Wilson?

ByABC News
November 19, 2014, 5:00 PM

— -- A Missouri grand jury is investigating whether to indict a white police officer who fatally shot a black unarmed teenager, after the incident prompted a national outcry.

The secretive nature of grand juries has led to confusion over the process and general misunderstanding of what exactly this group of citizens has been tasked with deciding.

Here is a breakdown of some of the most pressing questions:

Who makes up the grand jury?

  • 12 St. Louis County residents picked from a standard jury pool

  • The jury consists of 6 white men, 3 white women, 2 black women and 1 black man. Their ages have not been released

  • Reflective of the county’s racial make-up, which is 70 percent white, but not of Ferguson’s, which is about two-thirds black

  • Was impaneled in May for a four-month term but starting on Aug. 20, they began working exclusively on this case

  • Their term was scheduled to expire on Sept. 10, but was extended until Jan. 7, which is the maximum allowed by law

  • They will continue to meet until a decision is reached on whether to indict Wilson and they normally meet once a week on Wednesdays -- but the prosecutor's office said early on that additional days would be added as necessary. We do not know precisely how many times they have met

  • Unlike some juries in high-profile cases, this grand jury has NOT been sequestered

When will the Grand Jury decide the case?

  • The prosecutor's office most recent statement indicates a decision in mid-to-late November and that has not changed

Are the jurors deliberating now or still hearing from witnesses?

  • Short answer, we don't know

PHOTO: St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCulloch is seen in this April 15, 2014 file photo taken in Clayton, Mo.
St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCulloch is seen in this April 15, 2014 file photo taken in Clayton, Mo.

Who has testified before the grand jury?

  1. Officially, we know just one name, Dr. Michael Baden, the forensic pathologist who conducted an autopsy on Michael Brown at the request of the family. Baden testified on Nov. 13 and did not comment about his appearance

  • Officer Darren Wilson reportedly testified for four hours on Sept. 16. The prosecutor's office has refused to confirm this information. ABC News does not have independent confirmation

  • The prosecutor's office has said that every witness with anything to offer will testify before the grand jury, but has released no names or numbers of witnesses who have appeared

What is the grand jury deciding?

  • The grand jurors must decide if there is probable cause to believe that Wilson committed a crime, and if so, what charge. Possible charges range from involuntary manslaughter up to first-degree murder, according to the prosecutor's office. The jurors will also be instructed on Missouri statutes governing self-defense and use of force by law enforcement agents

How many votes are needed to get an indictment?

  • At least 9 out of 12

What happens if they vote to indict?

  • If at least 9 of the 12 jurors decide to charge Wilson, they return what is called a "true bill," which is then presented to the grand jury judge for the formal entering of the charges. The indictment would remain under seal until Wilson is formally taken into custody. If that were to happen, he would probably be taken into custody through an arranged surrender and conditions of his bond would be determined by the grand jury judge at the time the indictment is issued

  • Once Wilson has been taken into custody, and likely released on bond, then the indictment would be made public

What happens if they do NOT vote to indict?

  • If they do not have 9 votes for indictment, the grand jurors return a "No True Bill"

  • In that case, Wilson would be cleared of state charges. He could still face possible federal civil rights charges and civil lawsuits down the road

  • The prosecutor has said he will seek judicial approval to release, as soon as possible, all the testimony and evidence presented to the grand jury, if Wilson is not indicted

PHOTO: Pathologist Dr. Michael Baden waves off media questions as he arrives to testify before the grand jury concerning the Michael Brown shooting at the Buzz Westfall Justice Center in Clayton, Mo., on Nov. 13, 2014.
Pathologist Dr. Michael Baden waves off media questions as he arrives to testify before the grand jury concerning the Michael Brown shooting at the Buzz Westfall Justice Center in Clayton, Mo., on Nov. 13, 2014.

Was a grand jury required in this case?

  • No. The St Louis County prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, could have presented evidence to a judge to determine if there was probable cause to believe that a crime was committed by Wilson. Or the prosecutor could have decided to take no action after reviewing the evidence from the county police investigation

What is atypical about this grand jury process?

  • The prosecutor has decided to present to this grand jury all of the evidence gathered in the police investigation and to present testimony from every witness with anything to say about what occurred. Ordinarily a grand jury in a state case would hear only limited evidence and testimony to make a charging decision, guided by the prosecutor, but McCulloch has explained that because of the interest in this case, he decided to give the jurors everything

  • Grand juries are often considered rubber-stamp bodies for prosecutors to get the indictments they seek. In this case, McCulloch has been both lauded and criticized for his decision to allow the grand jury to hear all the evidence in coming to their decision. Some see it as a dodge while others see it as a logical and sound decision in a heated, complicated case

  • McCulloch's office has indicated that all testimony will be recorded, which is not always the case. He has also pledged -- if no indictment is issued -- to ask a judge to approve public release of all of the testimony (likely with redacted names) and evidence

Who is presenting the evidence to the grand jury?

  • McCulloch has designated two assistant prosecutors, Kathi Alizadeh and Sheila Whirley, to manage the grand jury process. Alizadeh is white. Whirley is black. Between them they have 45 years of experience

Who is in the room with the grand jurors?

  • Representatives of the prosecutor's office, witnesses and the jurors. Defense attorneys are not present or permitted. Proceedings are closed to the public. Once deliberations begin, it's just the jurors, unless they have questions for the prosecutor or ask to have another look at certain evidence

Can the grand jurors speak publicly after their decision?

  • If they do, ordinarily, they risk misdemeanor charges for disclosing evidence of a secret proceeding. Given McCulloch's pledge to release all the evidence, the circumstances may differ in this case