The rantings of a Public Defender constantly fighting against society's pervasive Police Industrial Complex. Enjoy the unique perspective of one whose life's work is to fight the system through the system.

Monday, September 08, 2003

Do police face real prosecution for crimes committed in the course of their duty?

I'm sure that many of them do, I just haven't seen much of it. And I pay very close attention, at least in Los Angeles, where an inordinant number of cases seem to take place.

Let's start with the obvious one - Rodney King. To begin with, the state prosecution was inept, and pretty meekly allowed the case to get sent out of LA and to Simi Valley, where a conviction was much harder to get. Then, after putting up an inept case, which saw the defendants acquitted, the Feds stepped in and brought their own prosecution. They won, good job, I'm proud. One would think that federal sentencing guidelines would take over there, and they would spend a good deal of time in the can after that. Oh no, not policemen.

You see, Judges tend to be ex-prosecutors (see previous posts on the subject), or if not ex-prosecutors, they've spent their whole career in the judiciary afraid of incurring the wrath of police and rubber stamping all of their actions. When faced with punishing them, old habits seem to stick with them (and that would not the old habit that defendants must pay a heavy price for exercising their constitutional right to a trial - oh no, that only applies to indigent minority defendants). They revert to the police wannabes that they always act like.

This is why, after over a decade of constantly upholding mandatory minimum sentences, and after a decade of overturning shorter sentences that some judges tried to give college kids caught with an ounce of acid facing a minimum of 20 years in prison, the Supreme Court finally spoke on the issue of mandatory minimums and ruled in favor of the defense. In a very narrowly written opinion, the Supreme Court managed to carve out a minor exception for mandatory minimums in a case called US v. Koon (yes, that would be Stacey Koon, one of the convicted cops in the Rodney King case). One might as well call the exception the "I'm only a cop who beat the hell out of minority defendant" exception to the mandatory minimum rule. Koon and Powell had their sentences halved instead.

Surely that is an exception, right? Wrong!!! In case after case, justice seems to disappear when police officers are in the defendant's chair. Don't get me wrong, all of those "rights" that pro-cop forces call "technicalities" are in full force: search and seizure, right to remain silent, coerced statements, not turning over discovery, and any other issue a good defense attorney could ever think of but would be afraid of bringing up for fear of being laughed out of the courthouse is brought up by police defense attorneys, and to the astonishment of every other defense lawyer in the building, the motions are granted - just this once.

The Rampart defendants had their convictions overturned for jury misconduct (the jurors had the temerity to read an exhibit that was submitted to them by the defense), officers who go on drunken rampages and shoot their guns out of cars get probation and no jail (but they had to write an apology and do community service - speaking to schools), officers who beat suspects and lie about it get probation and 6 months house arrest, shoot someone for no reason, lie about it and send him to prison for 24 years after paralyzing him for life, that's worth about 6 years.

In case after case, when the prosecution actually tries hard and wins a couple of these cases, they ask for next to nothing in sentences, or judges give them next to nothing in sentences.

Now, if you go out and deal drugs as a cop, or rape women, you tend to get a lot of time (especially if they are wealthier white women). But, this is only when caught in the act, or something close to it. Jurors have such a love affair with police unless they're caught on tape doing wrong convincing them to go aganist police can be a herculean task.

Ironically, defense lawyers are among the best at making police look bad when they actually act bad. But, in a deal that smacks of sweetheart treatment, regular old DAs prosecute cops. That's right, people who's job it is to make cops look good all the time once in a while have to do a trial where they say cops are lying. Guess what, they do a pretty bad job.

If society is ever serious about stopping police corruption and misconduct, they'll allow for special prosecutors to prosecute cops. And they'll hire criminal defense lawyers, preferably PDs, to do this.

I can't tell you how much of that Rampart trial I sat there watching feeling disgust. These DAs, who are so good at making the most minor gang member look like Atilla the Hun, couldn't make cops in the most rogue unit in LAPD, with members of the unit caught red-handed committing crimes, look like anything worse than Sgt. Friday. And despite that, and the obvious bias by the judge in favor of the defendants (she was sitting in a trial of defendants exposed by Rafael Perez. She had previously sat in a trial where Perez testified and she sent a letter of commendation for his actions to his superiors. He later admitted he lied in that case, embarassing her, to the extent that she told Perez's lawyer at a public function that she welcomed the lawyer in court anytime, but not Perez, who was to be the star prosecution witness in the Rampart trial. The prosecution decided not to call him afterall.), they were still able to get some convictions on the case, only to have the judge overturn them.

So, the message in society is clear, black and brown crime, bad, white crime, somewhat bad, blue crime? What's that? There is no blue crime, you can't believe those lying PDs and defense lawyers when they say cops lie, and the proof of that is that just about no officers are ever convicted (the DAs make sure of that), or get seriously punished (the judges make sure of that).

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