Abolish grand juries and independently prosecute by information the cops who kill

December 5, 2014

Friday, December 5, 2014

Good afternoon:

Time to get rid of the grand jury (See ham sandwich, indictment of)* and demand governors appoint independent prosecutors to prosecute killer cops.

I despise secrecy, especially secret meetings attended by people who discuss and decide matters that affect others without their knowledge or consent. Democracy requires transparency. It cannot function when decisions are made in secret and carried out without the knowledge and consent of the governed. Similarly, our courts must be open to the public so that the people that it serves can observe and decide whether justice is being dispensed. Indeed, the Sixth Amendment, which is applicable to the states through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees an accused a right to a public trial and the First Amendment protects the public’s right to know what its government and its courts are doing.

A star chamber proceeding has no place in a democratic society; yet, that is what a grand jury does. It meets in secret and decides whether to charge people with crimes. The identities of its members are kept secret as are the identities of the witnesses and their testimony before it.

Why do we have this deplorable practice?

We need to return to not so merry old England during the 11th century when the king was all powerful and able to stifle political dissent and steal valuable lands that he wanted by accusing, imprisoning, prosecuting, convicting and killing people for crimes they had not committed. To prevent him from abusing the criminal law to satisfy his lust for wealth and power, the aristocracy of the day took away his power to decide whom to charge. Hence, the grand jury was created to make that decision and the king had to convince its members that there was a legitimate reason to accuse someone of a crime.

We live in far different times and while there remains a legitimate concern that the criminal laws will be abused to punish and silence those who dissent (fill in the names of any whistleblowers here), we do have a process to review criminal charges for legitimacy. It’s called a probable cause hearing.

What is probable cause, you ask?

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) defined probable cause in Brinegar v. United States, 338 U.S. 160 (1949) as follows:

where the facts and circumstances within the officers’ knowledge, and of which they have reasonably trustworthy information, are sufficient in themselves to warrant a belief by a man of reasonable caution that a crime is being committed.

The sole function of a grand jury today is to decide whether there is probable cause to believe that a person committed the crime charged. A prosecutor typically decides whom to charge and what crime to charge. Armed with a proposed indictment and accompanied by the police detective who ran the investigation or the officer who arrested the suspect or target of the grand jury ‘investigation,’ the prosecutor puts the detective or cop on the stand and has him or her summarize the evidence against the target. Then the grand jury votes on whether there is probable cause. Depending on the size of the grand jury, at least 9 out of 12 or 12 out of 23 ‘yes’ votes are needed to return an indictment or true bill. Otherwise, it’s a no bill.

Many states have abolished the grand jury because it’s a pain-in-the-you-know-what to deal with. Instead, a prosecutor will review a case-investigation file for probable cause, and if it’s there, file an information charging the defendant with a crime or crimes. To satisfy the probable-cause requirement they have the detective or cop who arrested the defendant sign a statement under oath setting forth the evidence in the case. The affidavit is attached to the information and submitted to a judge to review for probable cause. If the judge finds probable cause, he or she signs an order to that effect. Then the information, affidavit for probable cause and order finding probable cause are filed.

Washington State where I practiced law for 30 years uses this process instead of the cumbersome grand jury.

Florida, Missouri and New York use both procedures. In Florida, for example, Angela Corey charged George Zimmerman by information with murder 2 and Michael Dunn with murder 1 by grand jury indictment (Florida requires murder 1 prosecutions to be by grand jury indictment).

Why did the prosecutors in Missouri and New York choose the cumbersome grand jury process instead of charging by information?

The simple answer in two words is ‘political cover.’

State prosecutors, who are elected by the voters, work closely with the police. They see themselves as partners with police in fighting crime. The last thing they want to do is to prosecute a police officer for killing someone. Not only is that like prosecuting a member of your own family for murder, it’s a great way to destroy a working relationship with police officers and lose the next election. In other words, they have a conflict of interest and it’s way too easy to succumb to temptation and use the secret grand jury to avoid charging and prosecuting a police officer.

State prosecutors who work with grand juries know how to get them to do their bidding. There are all sorts of ways. For example, in the Michael Brown shooting case, prosecutor Kathy Alizadeh went so far as to gently lead Officer Darren Wilson through 4 hours of testimony without ever challenging him on anything he said and she provided the grand jury with a statute favorable to him that the SCOTUS declared unconstitutional in 1985. The only witnesses challenged were the eyewitnesses who said Michael Brown had his hands up. As I warned long ago before the grand jury began hearing witnesses, the process was rigged and the outcome never in doubt.

The same is true in the Eric Garner case, except we are not going to see the prosecutor’s fingerprints at the scene of the crime because he is not going to release any evidence, except maybe the cop’s testimony, because he is going to play I’ve got a secret.

We are seeing an epidemic of cops killing unarmed civilians. There was another one in Phoenix last night.

White, brown or black, male or female, adult or child, we the people are being terrorized by militarized cops and state prosecutors are using secret grand juries to protect the killer cops and escape the political consequences for their wrongdoing.

We need to eliminate their political cover by getting rid of the grand jury and then we need to demand governors to appoint independent prosecutors to prosecute these cases.

Failure to do so will eventually lead to the people taking the law into their own hands and that is a result we must avoid.

*Charlie Pierce at Esquire Magazine came up with this expression.


Grand Jury should indict Darren Wilson because his claim of self-defense is contradicted by autopsy results and all eyewitnesses

August 22, 2014

Friday, August 22, 2014

Good afternoon:

The St. Louis County grand jury should indict Darren Wilson because the results of the independent autopsy and all of the eyewitnesses contradict his reported claim of self-defense and he has asserted his fifth amendment right to remain silent by refusing to fill out an incident report regarding the shooting.

Game within the Game

Darren Wilson has obviously been discussing his legal predicament with an attorney. As a result of that discussion, he decided not to fill out an incident report on the ground that his statement might tend to incriminate him.

That was a smart but risky move.

Smart because he has a fifth amendment right to remain silent and the members of the grand jury cannot assume that his silence is an admission of guilt.

Risky because he is the only witness who would testify that he shot Mike Brown in self-defense. All of the eyewitnesses have described a murder, not a justifiable homicide in self-defense. Therefore, if he does not testify, the grand jury will have little choice except to indict him for murder.

He could go for the brass ring by agreeing to testify before the grand jury, but he would lock himself into a story by doing so and could still be indicted for murder because his story is contradicted by all of the eyewitnesses.

Recall that the grand jury need only find that there is probable cause to believe that he was not in imminent danger of death or serious injury when he shot an unarmed Mike Brown multiple times, including twice in the head, killing him.

Yee olde bum-rush defense ain’t got no legs since none of the eyewitnesses saw Mike Brown rush the officer and his body was found right where he stopped and turned around to face the officer, 35 feet from the police vehicle.

Looks like he has decided to forgo testifying before the grand jury, in essence conceding that he will be indicted.

He’s in a very difficult situation, but I think he made the right choice.

Don’t forget that his lawyer could not be present, if he testified before the grand jury. There’s danger in them thar hills.

Meanwhile, he can derive comfort from the news today that people have contributed more than $225,000 for his defense at his beg-site.

Meanwhile, the racist right-wing-hate-machine marches on engaging in non-stop victim character assassination by lie and constant media repetition of the racist yee olde bum-rush defense in the court of public opinion until everybody forgets that Mike Brown was executed for jaywalking.

Welcome to Zimmerman II.


Superintendent of Steubenville schools indicted for obstructing justice in rape case

November 25, 2013

Monday, November 25, 2013

Good afternoon:

BIG NEWS out of Ohio.

The New York Times is reporting:

Michael McVey, the superintendent of Steubenville City Schools in Ohio, was indicted by a grand jury on felony counts of obstructing justice and tampering with evidence. Three other adults, including an elementary school principal, were indicted on lesser charges.

“While this started out being about the kids, it is also just as much about the parents, about the grown-ups, about the adults,” said Mike DeWine, Ohio’s attorney general, in announcing the charges. “How do you hold kids accountable if you don’t hold the adults accountable?”

Check it out.


Analysis of the prosecution’s case against Philip Chism

November 22, 2013

Danvers High School ...item 1a.. Pictured: Boy, 14, 'caught on camera dragging teacher's body into woods' (23 October 2013) ...item 1b.. UPDATED: 16:55 EST, 21 November 2013 ...

Creative Commons on Flickr by Marsmettn Tallahassee

Friday, November 22, 2013

Good afternoon:

Go to this link to read the 9-page affidavit filed in support of the application for a search warrant in Philip Chism’s case. Warning: Contains graphic details.

Today I am going to analyze the prosecution’s case against Philip Chism and ask readers to indicate which of three alternative ways of proving first degree murder they would select, if they were to prosecute this case.

The prosecution is not limited to proving only one theory. Separate verdict forms can be submitted as to each alternative way of proving first degree murder. To convict him of first degree murder, the prosecution need only prove one alternative. Proving one, two or all three alternative methods of committing a crime only proves one crime and only one sentence may be imposed for that one crime.

Even though Philip Chism is only 14-years-old, he will be prosecuted as an adult because Massachusetts has a statute that mandates the prosecution as adults of all juveniles over the age of 13 who are charged with murder. If convicted, he cannot be sentenced to death because Massachusetts does not have a death penalty.

He also cannot be sentenced to life without possibility of parole (LWOP) because the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has prohibited sentencing juveniles under the age of 16 to LWOP.

He cannot be prosecuted as an adult for the charges of aggravated rape and armed robbery unless the juvenile court declines jurisdiction. Therefore, he will have to be arraigned in juvenile court on those charges.

After the arraignment, the prosecutor will file a motion asking the juvenile court to decline jurisdiction and to transfer those two charges to adult court for adjudication on the grounds that, if convicted, the court lacks the resources to rehabilitate him before he turns 21 and the alleged crimes are an inextricable part of a single criminal episode that includes the murder over which the juvenile court lacks jurisdiction. Readers can reasonably expect the juvenile court will grant the prosecution’s request.

Philip Chism will be arraigned on the three charges in adult court. Pleas of not guilty will be entered on his behalf and his counsel will be provided with discovery.

Eventually, he will have to decide whether to go to trial and contest the charges or plead guilty.

Every defendant in a criminal case has a right to be presumed innocent and go to trial, even if he committed the crime(s) charged, and the jury must be instructed to return a verdict of not guilty as to each charge, if the prosecution fails to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.

Given his confession that is confirmed by the videotape from a hallway camera showing him entering the women’s bathroom while wearing a jacket, hat and gloves and departing sometime after that with her body in a recycling bin, little doubt exists that he killed her while acting alone.

First degree murder in Massachusetts is defined by Chapter 265, Section 1 as:

Murder committed with deliberately premeditated malice aforethought, or with extreme atrocity or cruelty, or in the commission or attempted commission of a crime punishable with death or imprisonment for life, is murder in the first degree.

Notice that there are 3 ways to commit this crime:

(1) Murder committed with deliberately premeditated malice aforethought;

(2) Murder committed with extreme atrocity or cruelty; or

(3) Murder committed in the commission or attempted commission of a crime punishable with death or imprisonment for life.

Analysis of the statute

The prosecution may be able to prove that he committed the murder by each of the following three methods.

He came to school with a box cutter, balaklava ski mask, gloves and multiple changes of clothing strongly suggesting that he premeditated the murder with malice aforethought.

The second option does not require proof of intent to kill or premeditation, if the murder itself demonstrated extreme atrocity or cruelty. The use of a boxcutter to slash her throat from behind while gripping her hair and pulling her head back suggests extreme atrocity or cruelty as would the use of the box cutter ante mortem to penetrate and slash her vagina (see below).

The third option is a felony-murder rule that does not require proof of intent to kill or premeditation, if the murder occurred during the commission of a felony that can result in a life sentence. Aggravated rape and armed robbery are felonies that can result in life sentences, so a murder committed during the commission of either those felonies would be a first degree murder.

Aggravated rape requires proof of penetration of the vagina, no matter how slight, with the penis or finger(s), or an object and proof of the use of force or threatened use of force. Massachusetts defines penetration of the mouth or anus as “unnatural sexual intercourse.”

Proof beyond a reasonable doubt of any of the following three felonies will satisfy the use-of-force element:

(1) assault with a dangerous weapon; or

(2) robbery; or

(3) armed robbery.

According to the news report last night, the prosecution has alleged that he penetrated her vagina with an object. If the object is the box cutter used ante mortem, that would likely establish that the murder was committed with extreme atrocity or cruelty.

Her body was found in the woods supine with her legs spread and a tree branch inserted into her vagina. Since this staging occurred post mortem, it should not be considered as evidence establishing that the murder was committed with extreme atrocity or cruelty.

Police also found a note with the body that said, “I hate you all.”

If you were prosecuting this case, which alternative way of proving first degree murder would you choose (assuming you had to choose one)?

Or, which alternatives are the easiest and weakest to prove and why?

Here’s a link to a Boston Globe story about the affidavit.


Philip Chism indicted by grand jury today for first degree murder, aggravated rape and armed robbery

November 21, 2013

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Good evening:

A Massachusetts grand jury returned an indictment today against 14-year-old Philip Chism.

The Boston Globe has the story.

Philip D. Chism was indicted by an Essex County grand jury today on charges of first-degree murder, aggravated rape and armed robbery, according to Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett’s office. Chism allegedly attacked Ritzer when she stayed after school to talk with him about an upcoming exam, according to prosecutors and students who were in the building that day.

“The indictments returned today detail horrific and unspeakable acts,” Blodgett said in a statement. “This is the first step in a long process to secure justice for Ms. Ritzer and her family.”

/snip/

Chism allegedly sexually assaulted the victim with an object. The aggravated rape charge is brought when there was serious bodily harm or when the rape was committed during another violent felonious crime or both, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors also allege that Chism, armed with a box cutter, robbed the victim of credit cards, an iPhone, and her underwear.

Ugly, ugly crime.

This is our 765th post.


%d bloggers like this: