Criminal Justice

Grand juries almost always indict, federal stats show; is there a shooting exception for cops?

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Statistics on federal grand jury indictments show the saying isn’t that far from reality: A prosecutor could get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich.

Out of 162,000 federal cases prosecuted in 2010 (the most recent year for which statistics are available), grand juries declined to indict in only 11 cases, the FiveThirtyEight blog reports.

“If the prosecutor wants an indictment and doesn’t get one,” University of Illinois law professor Andrew Leipold tells FiveThirtyEight, “something has gone horribly wrong.”

At the state level, experts agree that it’s extremely rare for a grand jury to decline to indict, the blog says. But some newspaper accounts suggest an exception to the rule: cases involving officer shootings. An investigative report by the Houston Chronicle, for example, found that charges in police shootings are rare in Houston, Dallas and Chicago.

FiveThirtyEight offers three reasons why grand jurors may decline to indict: because they tend to trust the police, because prosecutors tend to favor officers in their case presentation, or because prosecutors feel obligated to bring a case to a grand jury in police shootings, even when evidence is weak.

Hat tip to Above the Law.

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