Trials: Every Verdict Tells a Story

March 13, 2014

I am in the process of trying a case in Wayne County Circuit Court on behalf of a little girl who was forced to be born in a jail cell because her mother was imprisoned and denied necessary medical care by a local hospital. As I was taking the drive to court this morning I heard a radio report of a hunger strike among prisoners in California protesting that state’s practice of condemning large number of prisoners to solitary confinement. That state already is under a court order to relieve massive overcrowding. I wonder how it is that we have become a country that imprisons more people than any other nation in the world.  

In Michigan, one of the largest segments of employment, especially in the Upper Peninsula, is corrections. In a state with more prisons than some countries have, more prisons are being built. If one were to base a guess on what is happening with the prison system based on who is there, one could say that our country has decided to imprison African-American males as a social policy, and the mentally ill, and non-violent drug users. 

Violent crime is at an historic low, yet our prison population is at an historic high. I wonder if imprisonment has become the default setting on a society that refuses to address the social problems that require more effort and long-term investment. Just like the medical and prison staff who turned their eyes away from a woman and child in need, as a society we turn our eyes away from those in need: the mentally ill and homeless, the impoverished, the marginalized in our society. 

Or when we can’t avert our eyes, we imprison them. 

 


Stand Your Ground: Dunn Verdict

February 24, 2014

If justice had been done, then Michael Dunn should have been convicted of first degree murder, but in Florida and other “stand your ground” law States it is virtually impossible to get a murder conviction. Some of the jury in the Dunn case followed the law and that’s the problem: stand your ground laws create an impossible burden to prove first degree murder based on evidence alone.   Especially when a white kills a black.

First degree murder in the Dunn trial was proper because in Florida the intent to kill can be formed between the first and second shots. Dunn fired 10 times at a car moving away from him over a space of 4-5 seconds. He basically emptied his gun at a car driving away from him. The problem is that the “stand your ground” laws provides only a subjective test of the fear of imminent death for a shooter. In other words, it is not necessary for a person who kills someone else to make a decision that a reasonable person would have done in similar circumstances. It is not necessary to have any reasonable basis to believe anyone is a threat. All a murderer like Dunn has to say is that he really felt threatened, whether there was objective reason to feel threatened or not.

In Florida, the subjective standard of a perceived threat was adopted after testimony like the following:  One woman asked Legislators why she would have to wait until someone attempts to rape her before she is able to kill them? Her point was that if she feels some guy wants to rape her (whether there is any reasonable basis for that belief or not), she should be free to legally shoot him dead. In Florida, and many other States, that sounded logical and reasonable to Legislators dependent on NRA approval ratings and contributions.

As a father of two young children of race, I certainly understand the fear and outrage of African-American parents. “Stand your ground” laws have not reduced crime. They have not reduced homicides or attempted homicides – in fact they have increased homicides in the States that have adopted this law. The law is nothing more than a declaration of open season on African Americans, who are routinely misperceived as a “threat” by white people.

Stand your ground is a license for whites to murder blacks.  Period.