Residents from Fergusen, Missouri have been protesting in the streets for days as a result of the tragic death young Mike Brown, an 18-year old Ferguson college student who was shot by a local police officer. Outrage continued to erupt today as the local police chief released the name of the officer involved in the shooting. According to a CNN article, the officer is currently on paid administrative leave.
The question remains as to whether the officer will be charged with any crimes resulting from his interaction with Brown, leading to Brown’s death. Reporters have so far interviewed three individuals who claimed to be eye witnesses to the shooting, and whose description of the events substantially differ from the statements released by local police.
Different Accounts of the Shooting
The eye witnesses’ retelling of the events are consistent with one another. The officer and Brown were struggling near the officer’s patrol car in the middle of the street as the officer, who was seated in the driver’s seat of the patrol car, attempted to pull Brown into the car through the window. Shots were then fired, and Brown began to flee from the patrol car, until he was shot at least once by the officer. At that point Brown stopped running and raised his arms in the air, at which point the officer fired several rounds at Brown until Brown collapsed to the ground.
According to the local police chief, however, the officer fired his gun after having been assaulted by Brown and shoved into his patrol car. Brown allegedly attempted to reach for the officer’s gun, which the resulted in the officer discharging his gun at Brown, till Brown fell to the ground.
The Value of Eye Witness Testimony in a Trial
Should murder charges be filed against the officer, and should the officer plead not guilty and pursue a trial, both witness testimonies and police reports completed by the local police department will likely be introduced into evidence. As with any trial, both the testimonies and the police records will be introduced to provide the differing accounts of the incident to the jury. At the conclusion of the trial, the attorney for both the state and the officer will present closing arguments to the fact-finder in an attempt to persuade the fact-finder to accept the interpretation of the evidence that is most favorable to their client. After closing arguments, however, it will be up to the fact-finder alone to issue the verdict.
In reaching a verdict, the fact-finder will have access to all of the evidence presented at the trial – both eye witness testimony as well as testimony or other evidence presented through the police department. The fact-finder will then need to conduct an independent analysis of the evidence, choosing how much weight and credibility to assign to each piece of the evidence.
The fact-finder could very well decide to completely discredit certain evidence in favor of other evidence. For example, should the officer in the Brown shooting go to trial, the jury may find that the police department’s explanation of the event that occurred were not credible or trustworthy. In doing so, the jury will then adopt the testimony of the three eye-witnesses. The evidence, whether it be eye-witness testimony or official police statements, is therefore constitute only a summary of the different sides to the story.