Try, try, again

So, we have had two cases recently of police officers who committed homicide in the line of duty and were later not indicted by grand jury. And we have heard a clamor that they should have been tried anyway, that the grand jury process in both cases was unusually deferential to the officers (in contrast to the process in which a regular citizen’s actions are judged by a grand jury), and that “it should be settled in court!”

My question for those people clamoring for a trial is: What makes you think the result will be any different, save that a vaster amount of money will be spent?  Regardless of the unusual deference given to the officers in the grand jury process in these cases, an actual trial in front of an actual jury will give them even more deference. It only takes a majority of a grand jury to indict, but it takes a unanimous petit jury to convict. And the usual financial and temporal difficulties experienced by  defendants not employed as police officers will not apply – their defenses will be paid for not out of their own pocket, but by the same taxpayer who is paying to prosecute them. The prosecutor will be the same one who presented the case in front of the grand jury and supposedly softballed it.

In short, what do they expect from a trial that they didn’t get from the grand jury at a much lower expense and effort?

(The cynic in me says “another 6 months of media frenzy.”)

25 thoughts on “Try, try, again”

  1. I am very surprised that the officer in NYC was not charged as he clearly applied a hold that had been banned by his department. (I don’t think he murdered him at all, but he did clearly break department rules which contributed to the death of Eric Garner.) I was even more shocked when that grand jury came out after all the outrage in Ferguson with the same decision. I just knew Ferguson’s riots were going to sink the officer in NY.

    Nobody, NOBODY, cares about justice here. Each side is simply protecting their own interests. I haven’t heard a single officer say that the officer in NYC was wrong, nor have I heard any gang bangers say that Mike Brown’s actions are what caused his death.

    I’m guilty of it as well. I’m a law abiding citizen, veteran, and oath keeper; and I will always stick up for my brothers and sisters who are trying to make the world a better place by defending innocent people and the rights of citizens. I’ll call attention to a criminal and lay praise at the feet of a hero any chance I get.

    As far as the actual question you asked: Nobody really expects a different result at a trial. They just WANT a different result. Everyone knows Mike Brown assaulted Darren Wilson, it’s just that those who identify with MB cannot accept what they know.

    I do think both of these cases would have led to much less violence had they been tried in open court. If people saw the witnesses recanting their lies, heard the medical experts testify as to what the evidence proves, and listened to a great story-teller paint a portrait of what the evidence and testimony proved; there would have been far fewer protesters willing to go out and scream for justice knowing that justice had already been served.

    In this day and age, where information is thought of as a basic human right, any closed door trial of public concern will be seen as questionible from the start no matter what the outcome.

    1. 1 Chokeholds may be barred by NYPD policy, but they are not by law. Grand Juries don’t indict people based on their failure to follow their employer’s policy.
      2 The chokehold in question was applied for about 15 seconds. Hardly fatal. More likely is that Garner was killed by what is called positional asphyxia, exacerbated by the fact that there were several police officers sitting on him, the poor physical conditioning of Garner, and by his preexisting medical condition. The jury likely heard testimony to that effect.
      3 A trial that did not result in a conviction would probably still have resulted in riots. The press is whipping the black community into a frenzy. You have to ask yourself why. Your paranoid half wants to ask yourself who is behind this, and what the end game is.

      There was a protest in Orlando on Thursday, the protesters then got onto 6 chartered buses and went to Washington, DC to continue the protest there. Who is paying for all of this? Buses? Several days off work? Hotels? Meals?

      Someone is bankrolling and pushing all of this. Who? To what end?

    2. I had been under the impression that (at least in the Ferguson case) the material presented to the Grand Jury was now a matter of public record – IE, nothing hidden

    3. What on earth makes you think that, had these cases gone to trial, people would actually, you know, listen and watch what went on at that trial? Zimmerman, anyone? If the cases had gone to trial, the popular meme would remain the same regardless of the evidence actually presented.

    1. The proces is much less ruinous to a police officer charged for a line-of-duty incident. Even if you get past the “qualified immunity”bar, the costs of the defense are borne by the employer, and police are used to the court process as well, by and large

  2. In both these cases if the dead guy had not broken laws and then resisted arrest, the results would have been no police confrontation.

    Instead, they attacked or resisted the police who are going to make the arrest. They do not stand down. Both of the dead men brought this on themselves. In one case, he was a thug, and in the other it was a stupid law that was being enforced. If you do not want to see people possibly die for similar reasons, I suggest that NY stop passing idiotic laws!

    Wait until some one gets killed over not registering their gun with the CT gun grabbers and see the storm that results.

  3. The argument for a trial is this. Like it or not, cases like these are political issues. A lot of people see corruption/self-dealing in a prosecutor choosing not to charge a cop for what appears to the untrained eye to be unnecessary force. The prosecutor can pass the buck by convening a grand jury and giving them their honest opinion that there’s no reason to prosecute–but that’s irregular.

    So, have a trial. There’s nothing irregular about a jury trial concluding with an acquittal (if that be the right answer). The Sharpton types won’t be satisfied, but most of the public will be.

    1. No. Full stop. The judicial process is not for political purposes. That road leads to madness and downfall.

      Everything that would have come out in a trial came out to the Grand Jury. A ne trial won’t change anything.

    2. No. Full stop. The judicial process is not for political purposes. That road leads to madness and downfall.


      Stacy, what you suggest is one (very) short step from a political show trial.
      No. It IS suggesting a political show trial, in the vein of pretty much every dictatorship in history. Forcing a trial based not on the evidence, but on popular opinion? The only thing that would be worse would be to also change the standards of evidence simply because it’s a “political issue”.

      Sacrificing the Rights of the accused in a vain attempt to appease the mob is simply and clearly just morally wrong.

      1. Er, where did I say the public was going to vote on the verdict? The key feature of a show trial is a predetermined verdict, which is why regimes that engage in show trials tend not to bother with juries, and eventually not bother with a trial at all.

        What I said, again, was that if the prosecutor took the case to a grand jury and got an indictment, you’d then have a perfectly normal trial, at the end of which you’d have a verdict–one way or the other–that the majority of the public would accept as the result of proper due process.

        It’s being tried in the press already, and neither a prosecutor’s professional opinion, nor apparently the decision of a grand jury can persuade large shares of the public to have faith that justice was served. Maybe an actual trial–not a show trial, but a real one–would. Again, whichever way the verdict went in the end.

        1. Where did I say the public was going to vote on the verdict?

          It’s a trial put on for the sole purpose of appeasing the mob. That makes it a show trial whether the verdict is predetermined or not – and if there’s not enough evidence to actually go to trial on the merits of the case, then the verdict would be effectively predetermined in any otherwise honest trial.

          Don’t forget that the trial itself is effectively a form of punishment. I’m sure Zimmerman is still paying off his attorney’s fees from the show trial he was subjected to, all because a politician wanted to quiet the mob.

          1. Trials exist in the first place as an alternative to vigilante justice, so if you think about it, every trial is about appeasing the mob. Thus, I don’t agree that that’s a bad feature of putting the cop who killed Eric Garner on trial. It’s just more obvious in this case than most.

            Now, you may be right that even a trial wouldn’t shift the public mood very much. But we need something, here. It’s not enough, even for those of us who understand that things aren’t always as they appear, to say oh just trust the prosecutor. There is the appearance of impropriety, and it needs to be addressed.

            1. There is the appearance of impropriety, and it needs to be addressed.

              This much, I can agree with. When the police are involved – which by the nature of the system means the local prosecutor has some measure of conflict of interest – an outside prosecutor should be brought in. How outside is a matter for debate, but the person presenting the case to the grand jury should not be someone who has a working relationship with the person being investigated.

              But I cannot agree with the idea of having a trial just to satisfy the mob. Criminal sentences are to punish wrongdoers and to protect society against those who present a danger to others. Trials are to ensure that the right person is sentenced, and that the sentence is appropriate for the crime. Not to appease the mob, as you say.

            2. Trials exist (and this one is in the Constitution) so that an unbiased jury may judge the facts of the case, instead of the wronged individuals. It’s not a matter of appeasing the mob, but to ensure that the laws are fairly and evenly applied in an unbiased manner.

              There’s a reason that I approve of the phrase “we have a legal system, not a justice system.” Justice is in the eye of the beholder, but the laws are written down.

        2. Stacy,

          I guess what is being overlooked by some is the Grand Jury process is part of the judicial process. If there isn’t enough evidence to convince the people of that jury of a case, there probably isn’t enough to convince another jury — right?

          So if a petit jury trial is held just to appease the public- what happens if that decision doesn’t appease them?
          Should we then have jail time just to appease the public?

          See the people complaining can not believe there will be a fair outcome to any judicial process that doesn’t end with a conviction of their selected target. They don’t have faith that justice would be served and in some cases they have a very warped view of the world

          The family members of a robbery suspect that held a store employee at gunpoint in Alabama are lashing out at the Good Samaritan who shot him and stopped the robbery.

          Adric White, 18, was shot five times after he allegedly tried to hold up a Family Dollar store in Mobile on Nov. 12.

          FOX10 spoke exclusively to both the unnamed Good Samaritan and the family members of White. They’re livid that their son was shot while pointing a gun in someone’s face.

          “If [the customer’s] life was not in danger, if no one had a gun up to him, if no one pointed a gun at him – what gives him the right to think that it’s okay to just shoot someone?” a relative, who wished to remain anonymous, told FOX10. “You should have just left the store and went wherever you had to go in your car or whatever.”

          But when the suspect pulled out a gun at about 5:30 p.m., the Good Samaritan did too.

          “He had the gun to his head. He had him on his knees,” said the Good Samaritan, who wished to remain anonymous. “I drew my gun on him and I said ‘Hey don’t move.’ At that point he swung around and before he had a chance to aim the gun at me I fired. I didn’t want to shoot him.”

          The man shot White five times. He was taken to USA Medical Center, where he remains in police custody.

          The local news station had previously interviewed White’s parents, but they called later demanding that the video not be aired.

          White was out of jail on bond after previously robbing The Original Oyster House at gunpoint just a little over a month before he robbed the Family Dollar.

          Accomplice Tavoris Moss, 19, was also arrested in the Family Dollar robbery.

          What decision other then guilt as charged by family/friends/community?

          That is the worry of having trials — that is why people are talking about show trials — because in the end, in order to keep peace there can only be one decision – guilty.

  4. In the NY case, the Prosecutor purposely overcharged the officer in question. If the Grand Jury had been given the choice of a lesser charge (assault or reckless endangerment), he would be waiting for trial right now.

    An Independent Prosecutor should be used for police cases – too much opportunity for a case to be intentionally torpedoed.

    1. I was given to understand the lesser included charge of involuntary manslaughter was available to the NY Grand Jury.

  5. To me I think prosecutors go to grand jury’s because they don’t want the political hot potato. I’m fine with that and them going to grand jury’s, but minus the identities of the jurors I think everything has to be available to the public as far as testimony and evidence.

  6. First, I have to concur with those above saying that an actual public trial would have made little difference. With the media whipping people into a frenzy, the facts have become irrelevant or unbelievable to most of the public.

    Second, I think one big problem here is that the grand jury process has become – in perception, if not in fact – a near rubber-stamp for prosecutors. It’s extremely rare for a prosecutor to not get an indictment if they want one, and even rarer for an indictment to come out if the prosecutor doesn’t want one.

    Part of this is pure selection bias – a prosecutor is rarely going to take a case to a grand jury unless they’re pretty confident there’s enough evidence for a conviction, much less a trial. But part of it is the fact that the process itself is heavily biased in the prosecution’s favour, because there’s no one to argue against him.

    tl;dr – No one trusts the grand jury anymore to do anything but what the prosecutor wants, so a failure to indict when the prosecution may be biased agianst indictment is considered meaningless.

  7. Only one thought: Our system does not do justice. It does LAW. They are not the same thing.

    Justice is malleable. It is subjective. It is inherently undefinable.

    Law is clearer.

    Why a jury trial? Because it is public. There will always be those who will not accept the result; that will be the case no matter what. Posters above spoke of “show trials.”

    Let’s be blunt – at least in Ferguson, this was a “show Grand Jury.” ANY prosecutor who wants an indictment will get one. GJ are not trials; the defense doesn’t cross examine, and the prosecutor picks and chooses his evidence. A prosecutor who goes to a GJ and does not get an indictment doesn’t want one.

    What he wants is a grand jury to take the heat for him. And he got it. It may have been the right outcome in Ferguson (in New York, I’m far more skeptical). But the process was not at all like the usual GJ. It was a show.

  8. a key thing for me is that the grand jury does not establish fact. that’s for a jury trial to decide. no jury trial, no established facts.

    so the killers of mike brown and eric garner were not exonerated or found innocent. they simply weren’t charged in two cases where they should have been.

    1. The Grand Jury in both cases found that the facts presented to them did not rise to the level of Probable Cause necessary to sustain an indictment, in a proceeding that required a majority vote to sustain. That’s the function of a Grand Jury in our system, to determine if there was probable cause to indict. They are just as much finders of fact as a petit jury, only the rules under which they operate are (potentially) much more friendly to the prosecution.

      Your opinion that they should have been charged was not shared by the majority of each grand jury, after a presentation of the facts of the matters. How this is not a “finding of fact” eludes me

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