What charges did Ferguson grand jury consider in death of Michael Brown?

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Story highlights

  • Officer Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown on August 9
  • A grand jury weighs whether to charge Brown
  • The jury tries to decide whether a crime was committed
The grand jury investigating Michael Brown's death in Ferguson, Missouri, has spent months looking into the case.
Brown, an unarmed black teen, was shot to death by Darren Wilson, a white police officer, on August 9.
A grand jury weighing whether to indict Wilson has several options from which to choose, ranging from finding no probable cause that a crime was committed to charging him with murder.
"The thing that's in common is that Michael Brown is dead and that his death was caused by the actions of Officer Wilson," Peter Joy, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, said about the various options. "What changes with each one is really the mental state and the circumstances."
According to Ed Magee, spokesman for the prosecuting attorney's office, the grand jury is focused on whether Wilson should be charged with any one of several possible crimes, including first-degree murder, second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter.
Here's a look at those charges in more detail:
First-degree murder
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This is the most serious of the possible charges.
To prove first-degree murder, prosecutors would not only have to show that Wilson killed Brown, which is not in dispute, but they'd have to prove that he did so after deliberating on the matter.
Deliberation is typically proved by showing some sort of planning, although planning can take place within a relatively short period of time.
If Wilson is charged and then eventually found guilty of first-degree murder, he could face up to life in prison without parole, or death, if the death penalty is sought, according to Joy.
Second-degree murder
To prove second-degree murder, prosecutors would have to show that Wilson knowingly caused Brown's death -- that he knew what he was doing was going to cause serious physical injury or death.
According to Joy, if Wilson is found guilty of second-degree murder, he could face up to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
Voluntary manslaughter
Voluntary manslaughter is the act of killing another person while under the influence of a sudden passion.
If prosecutors can prove Wilson acted while in a fit of anger or rage when he shot Brown, they might be able to secure a conviction on voluntary manslaughter.
If they do, according to Joy, Wilson's sentence could be from five to 15 years.
Involuntary manslaughter
Involuntary manslaughter is when someone causes the death of another by being reckless.
He might not mean to kill the other person but didn't take the necessary precautions not to do so.
If prosecutors can prove Wilson didn't know what he was doing when he fired in the direction of Brown, they might be able to secure an involuntary manslaughter conviction.
If found guilty, Joy said, Wilson could be sentenced to no more than seven years in prison.
No charges
Of course, it's entirely possible that the grand jury will find there is no probable cause to charge Wilson with anything.
In this case, it would have to decide Wilson was justified in shooting Brown -- perhaps he feared for his life or acted in self-defense.
If the grand jury decided against an indictment, Wilson would continue to be a free man, at least so far as the state's criminal charges.
Federal officials are conducting two civil rights investigations, one into Brown's killing and the other into the local police department's overall track record with minorities.