Confused about grand juries? You’re probably not alone.
A New York grand jury in early December voted to not criminally charge a white police officer in the choking death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man. The decision came just 10 days after a Missouri grand jury declined to charge Darren Wilson, also a white police officer, in the shooting death of Michael Brown — also an unarmed black man. Both decisions stoked outrage and protests in New York and Ferguson, Missouri, where the respective deaths occurred, and there have been continued protests in other cities across the nation, including Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco.
In the tsunami of media reports and analysis following the two decisions, reporters and commentators have dropped legalese like it’s a universally understood dialect (and yes, I recognize the irony of using the word “legalese,” which is itself kind of legalese). Truth is, the law can be super complicated and obscure, and — speaking for myself here — a lot of legal terms and procedures that we news folk are wont to use aren’t always so frequently understood.