We have nothing against cops as a group here at LoS. We appreciate that the job can be extremely difficult and often dangerous. Still, there are times when the criminal justice system’s double standard in their favor deserves a comment or two.
Under the headline “Experts: Bench trial paid off for Nero”, MSNBC credits smart tactical decision making by Edward Nero’s lawyers for his acquittal on charges related to the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Rene Sandler, a Maryland defense attorney and “former prosecutor”, we are told, puts it this way:
“It was a very tactical decision for Nero’s lawyers, a very smart move,” Sandler said.
They’re laying it on thick:
When only the judge hears the evidence and renders a verdict, that’s known as a bench trial, named for where the judge sits. Such a proceeding isn’t common, but there are times when defense lawyers would rather try the case based on the law, rather than appealing to a jury.
Back to Rene:
“If you have an overwhelming legal issue that better plays in front of a judge on the law, as opposed to the emotions of twelve people, you will go for a bench trial,” said Rene Sandler, a Maryland defense lawyer and former prosecutor.
Let us summarize. You have a criminal case out of Chicago where the defendant is a cop charged with reckless homicide and the judge renders a judgment of acquittal, at trial, at the close of the prosecution’s case
because the defendant was a cop and that would never happen for anyone elsebecause the cop had fired into a crowd and the mens rea didn’t fit the facts.
From the sound of things we’d guess an acquittal is the right result here, although we are by no means a close student of this particular story. Our only concern is when “experts” give the public a false impression of the even-handedness of our criminal justice system. It is not even-handed. It grossly favors police and the government generally. This has nothing to do with an “overwhelming legal issue” better playing in front of a judge; it’s about the defendant being a cop that all the other cops, and probably the attorneys prosecuting the case, want to see acquitted. How often do cops tender an enthusiastic congratulatory handshake to an acquitted criminal defendant?
The general rule for criminal defendants is that you go with a jury because the risk of the jury wrongly convicting, while substantial, is far less that the risk of the judge wrongly convicting. But that’s not generally true when the defendant is a cop: the cop-as-criminal-defendant doesn’t even have to run the jury risk.
The rest of us do. That’s not even-handed.
Shame on MSNBC for misleading the public.
Update: Here are the judge’s career highlights. ‘Nuff said:
Career highlights: Led court’s criminal division from 2012 until January. Chaired Criminal Justice Coordinating Council for Baltimore, 2012-2014. Special litigation counsel for the civil rights division of the U.S. Justice Department, 2002-2005. Trial attorney in the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice, 1997-2002. Assistant state’s attorney in Baltimore, 1989-1997