CHICAGO (AP) — A Missouri grand jury could begin hearing evidence as soon as Wednesday to determine whether any charges should be filed against the white suburban police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown.
State prosecutors are wading through contradictory narratives as they decide which account to present. Federal authorities also could take legal action against officer Darren Wilson, especially if they decide their state counterparts are drawing the wrong conclusions.
A look at some of the legal issues:
What state charges could Wilson face?
Although the stiffest possible charge is first-degree murder, which can carry the death penalty, legal experts say that's highly unlikely. It would require proof that Wilson plotted to kill Brown, said Peter Joy, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis. "It'd have to be a cold and deliberate killing — almost execution style," he said.
If Wilson is charged, a more likely option could be second-degree murder, which is often applied to killings that occur after someone hastily draws a knife in the heat of a fight. Unlike first-degree murder, the second-degree charge does not require evidence of premeditation. Two lesser but still-serious charges are voluntary or involuntary manslaughter, which would follow a finding Wilson acted recklessly or negligently in causing Brown's death.
How important is motive?
It's critical to the case. Prosecutors essentially have to get inside Wilson's head, said Anders Walker, a professor at Saint Louis University School of Law. Did he fire in a fit of racially charged anger, perhaps subjecting him to second-degree murder? "They have to decide what the officer was thinking," Walker said. "A lot hinges on that."
Are there other relevant state laws?
Yes. One is called "defense of justification law," which provides some legal leeway for officers to shoot suspects they believe are fleeing a serious crime and refusing to surrender, Joy said. In this case, some witnesses say Brown was surrendering. And police have said Wilson did not know Brown was a robbery suspect. Wilson could try to argue that Brown was not fleeing the robbery but instead fleeing from the crime of pushing or hitting Wilson.
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