"And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God"
-- Micah 6:8

"The duty of the prosecutor is to seek justice, not merely to convict."
-- American Bar Association Standard 3-1.2(c)

"There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia."
--Pope Benedict XVI, June 2004

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Community Speaks

A Richmond City jury convicted a former police officer of manslaughter for shooting a suspect while the officer was being dragged by the suspect's car. The sentence handed down by the jury? A $2,500 fine. No jail. No prison.

The "victim's" mother called the sentence "a joke." The real joke was the Commonwealth's decision to try this officer again after he was tried previously for second degree murder in a trial that resulted in a hung jury. That earlier trial was prosecuted by the former elected Commonwealth's Attorney, who had also tried to convict a different police officer for another line of duty shooting, but failed in three trials to obtain a conviction.

At least the current Commonwealth's Attorney was smart enough to seek only a manslaughter conviction at this retrial, a tactic which succeeded, but only barely. The jury could have given the officer up to 10 years in prison, but imposed only a fine. I would not consider that a win.

One interesting note, however, is that, despite Ken's oft-stated objections to jury sentencing, a case such as this one shows why the system works reasonably well (Virginia, unlike most states, allows juries not only to find guilt or innocence, but to recommend the punishment). The jury apparently thought the officer was somewhat negligent in shooting the "victim." They also apparently thought that the level of negligence involved was de minimis. Thus, while feeling the officer was technically guilty, they clearly believed his fault was slight. So, then, was his sentence.

This is no doubt why the prior jury deadlocked; it was over-reaching to accuse the officer of murder when at best you had a misjudgment about the level of threat presented by the "victim," a misjudgment not even worthy of putting someone in jail over.

1 comment:

123txpublicdefender123 said...

Texas has jury sentencing, too. Well, the defendant has the right to elect jury sentencing. In almost five years at the PD's office there, we had at least three people convicted of murder who were then given probation by the jury. They were all cases like this, sort of imperfect self-defense. The problem with jury sentencing is that you can have wide, often arbitrary, disparities in sentencing from one case to the next. But the upside, is that you have a community of citizens, instead of one judge who has to run in a partisan election next year, handing down what they believe is the appropriate sentence.

Of course, the other downside to jury sentencing is that they sometimes compromise, as it seems this jury may have done. They agreed to find him guilty, but give only a small fine. Of course, the collateral consequences of his manslaughter conviction don't go away. Right to vote, own a gun, be a peace officer, etc.