It is an old joke that a Grand Jury would indict a ham sandwich if you wanted them to. When a DA Wants to Indict a Ham Sandwich The ham sandwich gets indicted. Except, apparently, in Ferguson and New York. Where did that delicious, evocative phrase come from? An infamous phrase among lawyers is that “you can indict a ham sandwich.” In the wake of the shocking Ferguson grand jury decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for shooting Michael Brown, evidence has come to light explaining how the grand jury so badly missed the mark. “A grand jury could ‘indict a ham sandwich,’ but apparently not a white police officer,” wrote the U.K.’s Independent. “#Ferguson: Judge: A 'grand jury' will indict a ham sandwich -- if the government wants it to” The Purpose Of The Ferguson Grand Jury Was Not To Get An Indictment. To the majority-black community in Ferguson, Brown's death was seen as something that could happen to them or their own sons. They were all the more so because they were not all that surprising. An old saw holds that a prosecutor could get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. In his etymological blog post, Popik says the Jewish judge “told me that he regrets that he didn’t say ‘pastrami’ sandwich, adding that he may (surely) have been misquoted about ‘ham.’ “. By Albert B. Kelly. The joke comes from the reality that Grand Jury proceedings are kind of a sham. And you'll never see this message again. a case that is a sure loser. In Ferguson, the public waited in the dark for months as the secret grand jury heard testimony. And they continued to use violence even after the Ferguson case. It seems ironic, now, or sad, or tragic, that it was one-time Chief Judge Solomon Wachtler of the New York Court of Appeals who is credited with … The point being that a grand jury proceeding is heavily biased toward the prosecution. Psychology Today explains: Wachtler, who pleaded guilty to making threats to kidnap Silverman’s daughter, was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison. As New York Judge Sol Wachtler said in 1985, “If a district attorney wanted, a grand jury would indict a ham sandwich.” Grand juries are the prosecutor’s babies. “If a jury can indict a ham sandwich, why is it taking so long?” asked Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson. Prosecutors have a vast amount of leeway and control when it comes to grand jury proceedings. In a biographical essay on the New York courts’ website, David Gould writes, “After Judge Wachtler was released from prison, he told an audience at a speech he gave that before his arrest, he was always worried that the ‘ham sandwich’ statement would be the only thing for which he would be remembered. Anytime any other citizen defends themselves. Barnstable District Court Judge James O’Neill CAPE COD WAVE PHOTO. Regardless of whether it was pastrami or ham, Wachtler got to observe the sandwich-making process from both sides of the lunch counter. The Flames of Ferguson and the Grilling of the DA. The relevant bit: A month later, the New York Times noted that Wachtler believed grand juries “operate more often as the prosecutor’s pawn than the citizen’s shield.” That belief—that prosecutors can get grand juries to do whatever they want them to do—will sound familiar to anyone who’s been listening to criticism of St. Louis County prosecuting attorney Robert McCulloch. In most cases, a grand jury is a supple tool in the hands of a prosecutor bent on an indictment. By joining Slate Plus you support our work and get exclusive content. A prosecutor might be able to get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich, as the saying goes, but not two police officers who caused the deaths of unarmed men. In a September 12 column titled "Ferguson tragedy becoming a farce," Milibank referenced the well-worn adage about a prosecutor's power over grand juries: "A grand jury will indict a … Compared to a conviction by a trial jury, an indictment requires a lower threshold of evidence and it needs only nine votes, as opposed to a unanimous vote.

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