Friday, July 09, 2010

The right verdict

Yesterday, a Los Angeles jury found that former BART cop Johannes Mehserle is guilty of negligent homicide (involuntary manslaughter) in the execution-style shooting of Oscar Grant. He now faces 5 to 14 years in prison.

The predictable suspects then start yammering about how Mehserle got away with murder yada yada. Nonsense. A cop going to prison is hardly "getting away" with anything. Furthermore, despite my well-known distaste for most of today's so-called "peace officers", who behave suspiciously like the jackbooted thugs of Soviet Russia, I would have voted exactly the same way if I'd been on that jury.

Look: The burden of proof is reasonable doubt, and Mehserle introduced reasonable doubt into the case for him deliberately killing Grant when a) he claimed he thought he had a taser rather than a gun in his hand, and b) his defense team introduced evidence showing that BART had given him no (zero) training in taser use that would help him distinguish between pulling his taser and pulling his service weapon in the heat of action. Once Mehserle introduced this defense, the prosecution had to prove that Mehserle *knew* he'd pulled his handgun rather than his taser in order to get a murder conviction, and there was no way to prove that. Personally I think he lost it and executed Grant, but the problem is, there's enough doubt there that I would have voted the same way as the jury. It just wasn't possible for the prosecution to prove Mehserle knew he'd pulled his gun rather than his taser.

So anyhow: I think justice is served here. The system worked the way it's supposed to work, for once. It may bum some people out that our courts require this little thing called proof of intent to convict someone of murder, but that is how a working court system is supposed to work. Reasonable doubt may seem a bummer sometimes, but what's the alternative? That people must prove they're innocent beyond all doubt in order to avoid conviction? Can any of us, anywhere, prove we're innocent of anything at all? About the only thing I can prove I'm innocent of is the murder of John F. Kennedy... and that one is because zygotes don't shoot well. "Reasonable doubt" may seem silly when we're "sure" that someone is guilty, but the alternative is gross miscarriage of justice on a mass scale, since virtually nobody can prove they're innocent. Where were *you* on November 22, 1963? Can you prove it?

-- Badtux the Law Penguin


  1. Oops, mybad, I thought you were older than me. I was under a year old when Kennedy was killed, and I wouldn't be surprised to find out that my mother was very distraught that day because I still get upset about it.

  2. Can you *prove* that you weren't behind the grassy knoll, with a rifle clutched in your little tyke hands as you lay in your bassinet? :-).

    - Badtux the Innocence Penguin

  3. Taking your description of the event at face value I would agree with you. "Beyond a reasonable doubt" is a set of words that courts have used for years and maybe our public discourse would be much more productive were it applied to statements mad in daily life by all people. It would lower the rhetoric and promote a more rational discussion. Holy Cow, I really am a liberal!

  4. roflmao, nope, caint do it

  5. Bullshit Tux.

    I saw the goddamned video. The victim was already subdued and no threat to anyone.

    There was no reason to taze him.

    There was no reason to do any fucking thing to him.

    If I shoot an unarmed man who is not threatening me, I've committed first degree murder. And claiming I thought my gun was a toaster doesn't change a thing.

    Maybe you can blame my wife for not training me properly in toaster use. (Though i do sometimes mistake my wife for a hat.)

    Forget the punishment. It's the verdict that's fucked up.

    (shaking head, mumbling . . .)

  6. JzB, you're right, Mehserle should not have been even *tasing* Oscar Grant. Thus the "Don't tase me bro" tag in my left margin, where I sometimes post about cops who misuse tasers (which, after all, are just cattle prods with better PR, same basic tool that white racist cops during the Civil Rights era used to torture black prisoners, same basic tool still in use by 3rd world tyrannies today to torture their political prisoners). But once Mehserle brought in the defense that he thought he was tasing Grant rather than shooting Grant when he pulled that trigger, to get a murder vs. negligent homicide conviction, the prosecution had to *prove* that Mehserle knew he had a gun rather than a taser in his hand. And that's impossible to prove short of a Vulcan mind meld, which itself would violate the 5th Amendment.

    Could the prosecution prove that Mehserle *should* have known that he had a taser rather than a gun in his hand? Yes. And they *did* prove that much, thus the "involuntary manslaughter" conviction. But the burden of proof in a criminal court is supposed to rest on the prosecution, for the clear reason that it's virtually impossible for anybody to prove they're innocent. Where were *you* on November 22, 1963? Can you prove it?

    - Badtux the Law Penguin

  7. Class attendance records will verify my presence in Miss Brooks English class when the news broke. They didn't have phones in each class room: I think the principal sent word around to all the teachers.
    As for Mehserle, as difficult as I find it to believe that someone could pull a taser and think it was a gun, I have to agree with Badtux. The burden is on the prosecution to prove intent. Manslaughter seems like a reasonable verdict.
    I've never fired a gun or a taser. Are the grips and firing mechanisms anything at all similar?
    I would hope that BART would be forced by this event to provide better training to it's officers: but with all cities states cutting back on funding where ever they can, that doesn't seem likely to happen.


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