Saturday, December 13, 2014

Stop, Don't Shoot!

I've told you before that I'm a paralegal who sometimes works on high-profile criminal cases.  I had an interesting experience last night that I'd like to share with you.  My boss received two awards from a local criminal defense attorney's organization, primarily for his work on the David Warren case.  If you want more information, a quick Google search will keep you reading for some time, but the short version is that our client, David Warren, a couple of days after Hurricane Katrina, was a police officer tasked with guarding a shopping center that contained a police substation.  It was a two-story shopping center with a center courtyard and with second floor walkways which made it impossible to see the whole first floor.  The whole city was under an evacuation order, there was no electricty or running water.  David Warren is White.  Two African-Americn men drove up in a truck and headed toward the gate to the shopping center.  Warren testified that he told them to get back; the survivor said he did not.  Warren shot one of the men; both ran away but the man who was shot collapsed about a block away.  A passerby (also African-American) picked the two men up and took them to a local school where the police had a temporary headquarters.  Instead of helping the man who was shot, the police detained the healthy men.  Later, one of the officers took the car containing the victim up over the levee and burned it and the victim (presumed dead by this time).  No one accused Warren of knowing anything about what happened at the school.  Several years later Warren was tried, along with the police officer who burned the body and several who were accused of covering up the killing.  That trial resulted in three convictions:  Warren was convicted of the killing, the guy who burned the body was convicted of violating the civil rights of the victim and his family, and another officer was convicted of writing a false report.  We appealed on the grounds that it was unfair to try Warren with the other officers when there was no evidence he knew anything about what they did.  Warren's conviction was overturned and he was re-tried a year ago, and acquitted.  In other words, the jury accepted Warren's explanation and classified the shooting as justified.  The victim's family was devastated; Warren's family was elated.  

Last night an award was also given to an attorney defending the Danziger Bridge case.  That case also put police officers on trial for a post-Katrina shooting.  That case also resulted in convictions.  However, the judge in that case overturned the verdicts and ordered a new trial due to prosecutorial misconduct--people from the US Attorney's office were commenting about the trial on the newspaper's website, and then lied to the judge about it.  The attorney who unearthed the comments got the award.  The commenters in the US Attorney's office, and the popular US Attorney lost their jobs.

Another award went to a woman who has spent her life as criminal defense attorney fighting for the rights of the poor who make up the largest group of criminal defendants.  Her acceptance speech was very short "Stop, don't shoot!" and she received a lot of enthusiastic applause, though not from our table.  

On the way to the dinner, we passed a group of young White adults who were protesting police brutality and names on the signs included the victim of the Warren shooting and Michael Brown.  I mentioned to my husband that the group throwing the dinner would, as a whole, be more sympathetic to this group than to the police.

What is right?  What is justice in these cases?  I haven't followed the Michael Brown case very closely and I certainly didn't read that huge Grand Jury transcript that was released.  In short, I don't know what the Grand Jury heard and saw, and frankly I doubt many of the protesters did either.  I'm proud to work in a criminal defense system based on laws.  There are laws that protect the rights of the accused, even if he is a hardened criminal (or a police officer) and laws that limit the power of the State.  While the families of Michael Brown, Henry Glover, and Eric Garner are mourning the loss of their loved ones, despite the fact that evidence supports the contention that they engaged in criminal activity at or about the time they were killed; the families of the involved police officers were relieved to have their loved ones home that night.  A wife of a police officer once told me that her husband said he'd rather be tried by twelve than carried by six.  It is tough to be a cop; however, that doesn't excuse them taking the law into their own hands.  

I wish I was a better writer; or maybe I should have thought this out more before I started writing, because I don't really feel like there is a point to this post, except to say that in the criminal defense business you learn to see both sides and you learn to see "criminals" as people and that I think a lot of society would be better off if they were able to do that.  

Also, I'm a blogger.  I'm an amature journalist/writer.  No one hired me; no one can fire me.  I have my little (and believe me, it is VERY little) corner of the internet and as long as I don't commit libel, I can say just about anything I want to say.  I can name call; I can use very limited evidence to speculate, I can interview lots of people who are as ignorent of the facts as I am and put it all together, and if I can get enough people to read it, I have influence.  We are trying people on facebook these days, rather than in court, and then we get outraged when things don't go the way they "should".  An educated, informed populace is a good thing but despite the constant flow of information, I'm not sure we are being informed or educated by much of it.  

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