Federal Judge Won’t Touch MO’s Grand Jury Gag Order

     ST. LOUIS (CN) – A member of the Michael Brown grand jury itching to go public has an issue for Missouri state courts, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.
     Missouri law makes it a criminal offense for a member of a grand jury to speak about his experience.
     Over a month after the grand jury that investigated the death of Michael Brown declined to indict Brown’s killer, Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, an individual known only as Juror Doe brought a federal complaint against St. Louis County prosecuting attorney Bob McCulloch, claiming that the lifetime gag order Missouri imposes on grand jurors is unconstitutional.
     U.S. District Judge Rodney Sippel dismissed the suit Tuesday, finding that a state court should decide the matter.
     “How Missouri manages its criminal justice proceedings and how it employs and supervises its grand juries is an area of fundamental importance to a sovereign state,” Sippel wrote. “Federal intervention would interfere with Missouri’s procedures and policies in an area of special state interest, that is, the control, use, and structure of its grand jury system.”
     In the 16-page opinion, Sippel noted that this case presented a balancing act between protecting Doe’s right to free speech and the tradition of grand-jury secrecy.
     “As fundamental a right as free speech is, however, it is not unlimited and unqualified,” Sippel wrote. “The United States Supreme Court has observed that ‘[t]he societal value of speech must, on occasion, be subordinated to other values and considerations.'”
     In seeking to have the juror’s case dismissed earlier this year, McCulloch’s attorneys had also argued that no justifiable controversy existed.
     The juror had been represented in the case by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri.
     That group’s legal director, Tony Rothert, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he thought Sippel’s dismissal was “thoughtful.”
     Rothert said there were many positives in the ruling, including Sippel’s refusal to rule in McCulloch’s favor on the merits of the case. He told the Post-Dispatch that the ACLU would have to talk to the juror before deciding on a next step.
     Brown’s shooting by a Ferguson police officer sparked riots and protests last August. Dozens of Ferguson businesses were burned and looted after the grand jury decided not to indict Wilson in November.

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