5 Questions the Ferguson Grand Jury Will Have to Answer

With a Missouri grand jury possibly about to start hearing evidence in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, The Root takes a look at five questions they and prosecutors must consider. 

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Michael Brown; Darren Wilson

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While tempers continue to flare in Ferguson, Mo., after a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed African-American teen Aug. 9, there are still a number of issues that now must be considered. As several stories have emerged and Ferguson continues to split at its racial seam, state prosecutors have to decide whether to take legal action against Darren Wilson, the 28-year-old officer who fatally shot Michael Brown.

According to the Associated Press, a "Missouri grand jury could begin hearing evidence as soon as Wednesday." Below are several possibilities and potential questions that must be considered.

1. Could Wilson face the death penalty?

Short answer: Yes. Long answer: According to AP, although death-penalty charges could be brought, several legal analysts believe that the death penalty is highly unlikely, since proof would be needed to substantiate that Wilson plotted to kill Brown.

"It'd have to be a cold and deliberate killing—almost execution-style," Peter Joy, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, told AP.

2. What charges could be brought against Wilson?

If charged, Wilson would likely be charged with second-degree murder. This charge is usually applied to killings that happened in the moment, meaning that there might not need to be an intention to kill, AP reports. 

Wilson could also be charged with voluntary or involuntary manslaughter. According to AP, while these are lesser charges, they are still serious and would require proof that Wilson's reckless or negligent actions caused Brown's death.

3. Could Wilson not be charged?

Yes, if the investigation concludes that Wilson acted in self-defense. Joy did tell AP that a minor charge, like assault, is not probable. "It's likely you're going to have the state charge him with murder or manslaughter—or nothing at all."

4. Was Wilson's action reasonable?

Joy told Newsweek that this a central question in the case. "It's a question of, 'Was it reasonable to act in the way the police officer did?' Being reasonable would be triggered by, 'Is there a reasonable risk of harm?' "

Joy noted that the question of whether Wilson's action was reasonable depends on whether he knew Brown was unarmed and whether Brown was fleeing or charging the officer. "Assuming the answer [is] he knew he was unarmed, I think that, by itself, would mean no justification for the shooting."

5. How important are the autopsy results?

Very important, because two conflicting narratives about the shooting have pervaded the case from the beginning. Eyewitnesses have claimed that Brown was running away when Wilson shot him. Police officials claim that the officer was being attacked when he opened fire.

If autopsy results show that the bullets entered through the back of Brown's body, that would poke holes in theory that Brown was attacking the officer when he was shot, Joy told AP. If the autopsy shows that the bullets were fired at close range into the front of Brown's body, then that would support the narrative suggesting that Brown and the officer were engaged in a scuffle when he was shot.  

Read more at the Associated Press and Newsweek.