Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Ferguson Grand Jury Leaks Risk Everyone's Right to Fair Trial

The shooting death of Michael Brown by Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson is back in the news again, as a series of highly sensitive details from ongoing grand jury proceedings have been leaked to the press. Now, as both sides scramble to address information that was not meant to be public, the media and courts have to figure out how to deal with this significant violation of due process rules.

The information at the center of the debate comes from a series of high-level leaks from within the grand jury proceedings — proceedings that are supposed to be kept secret and confidential. The newly revealed details lay out inside facts, including autopsy reports and testimony, which has many concerned about their potential influence on public opinion concerning the case.

On Wednesday, the Department of Justice informally condemned the leaks, with an anonymous DOJ official telling the Los Angeles Times that they found the leaks "irresponsible and highly troubling," and that "there seems to be an inappropriate effort to influence public opinion about this case." On Thursday, CBS News reported that Attorney General Eric Holder told colleagues that he was "exasperated" by the leaks and the "selective flow of information coming out of Missouri."

Concern about the leaks comes primarily from the Brown family's camp and supporters, as the majority of the information appearing in the press seems to corroborate the narrative heard from the defense, namely that Brown attacked Wilson in his vehicle, catalyzing the exchange that resulted in in Brown's death.

The highly sensitive nature of the information contained in the leaks, coupled with the somewhat cryptic disclosure from members of the press, greatly narrows the scope of potential leakers to the respective attorneys and staff involved in the proceedings.

Legal analysts and commentators have been speculating as to the source and intent of the leaks ever since they first made headlines on Monday. Some are arguing that the release of information is an attempt by Wilson's attorney to push public opinion in Wilson's favor and force the grand jury's hand not to indict. Others, like Mic's Gregory Krieg, take an even more cynical approach, arguing that the prosecutor's office is leaking this information to soften the public reaction to a decision not to bring charges against Wilson.

More:  http://mic.com/articles/102252/ferguson-grand-jury-leaks-risk-everyone-s-right-to-fair-trial

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