Speed Reads

Ferguson

It's really hard to avoid indictment — unless you're a police officer

Following the Ferguson grand jury's decision to decline to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting of Michael Brown, statistics blog FiveThirtyEight has shared numbers that indicate just how unusual that outcome is:

Former New York state Chief Judge Sol Wachtler famously remarked that a prosecutor could persuade a grand jury to "indict a ham sandwich." The data suggests he was barely exaggerating: According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. attorneys prosecuted 162,000 federal cases in 2010, the most recent year for which we have data. Grand juries declined to return an indictment in 11 of them. [FiveThirtyEight]

There are some differences to note: That ratio is for federal grand juries, and the Michael Brown case was heard in a state court. But the most important difference is the job of the accused. While regular citizens are almost always indicted, police officers who have shot civilians are almost never are. In Houston, for example, not a single officer has been indicted in a decade.