As the Justice Department probes the police shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old in Missouri, history suggests there’s no guarantee of a criminal prosecution, let alone a conviction, says the Associated Press. Federal authorities investigating possible civil rights violations in the Aug. 9 death of Michael Brown in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson must meet a difficult standard of proof, a challenge that has complicated the path to prosecution in past police shootings.
To build a case, they would need to establish that the police officer, Darren Wilson, not only acted with excessive force but also willfully violated Brown’s constitutional rights. Though the Justice Department has a long history of targeting police misconduct, including after the 1992 beating of Rodney King, most high-profile police shootings never make it to federal court. “It’s a very difficult standard to meet, and it really is satisfied only in the most egregious cases,” said one legal expert.