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Why Darren Wilson was never going to go to prison, in one chart

The Ferguson grand jury's decision that Officer Darren Wilson should not be indicted for shooting Michael Brown is a reminder that many police misconduct cases never turn into criminal prosecutions.

But even when police officers do get tried for misconduct, the outcomes look very different than they do when civilians are prosecuted:

fivethirtyeight police prosecutions chart


This isn't a fluke, it's the result of systemic biases in favor of police officers. As David Rudovsky, a civil rights lawyer who co-authored the book Prosecuting Misconduct: Law and Litigation, explained in an interview, juries have "a tendency to believe a police officer over a civilian, in terms of credibility."

That means that "when an officer is on trial, reasonable doubt has a lot of bite." The prosecutor's case needs to be very strong to convince a jury that an officer's behavior was egregious enough to be worthy of criminal punishment. Ordinary defendants, by contrast, enjoy no such advantage.

The chart above shows the dramatic cumulative effect of that bias. Only a third of police officers who are charged with a crime ever get convicted. And of those, nearly two thirds are never incarcerated. That's very, very different from the outcomes for civilian defendants, who face strong odds of conviction and incarceration.

H/T Mona Chalabi

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