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April 26, 2008

Bell case not yet closed, legislators say

A coalition of New York legislators vows to seek redress for Sean Bell at the federal level, according to a statement released by Rep. Gregory Meeks on Saturday:

"We do not accept that this is the end of this case.  We have joined with the families and their attorneys in filing a compliant with the U.S. Department of Justice requesting an investigation of violations of the civil rights of Sean Bell, Joseph Guzman, and Trent Benefield.  Indeed, this afternoon the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it's Civil Rights Division, the United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation's New York Field Division will conduct an independent review of the facts and circumstances surrounding the Nov. 25, 2006, shooting of Sean Bell and two of his friends.

The statement is cosigned by elected officials from federal, state, and city government. Signatories include Rep. Charles Rangel, Congressional Black Caucus Chair Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, State Senate minority leader Malcolm Smith, four New York State assemblymen, and two New York city councilmen. 

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Comments

It's DISGUSTING !!

But, good for these officials.
I do not see this as a race issue. I see it as an issue of police brutality and wholesale participation in criminal activity. I think it's quite possible that Mr. Bell knew too much.
OR, that a deal went sour. These police squads (locally and in other places) are so often found to be participating in the illicit activty.
Maybe it's just much more obvious in a smaller place where you see the police in mansions and incredibly expensive homes driving lexuses, kids going to all the best schools and making gang signals from their car windows. Including detectives. As you see in Tampa. Including the Internal Affairs Dept here in Tampa.
That's what it has always seemed like to me. Of course, the fiancee didn't speak up but she was probably too scared.
I'm just sayin ....
My feeling is that if the truth EVER comes out, we'll discover they were acquainted in some fashion.

Shouldn't this be an obstacle to any further prosecution of the police officers?

Amendment 5 (to the United States Constitution) - Trial and Punishment, Compensation for Takings. Ratified 12/15/1791.

....... nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb;.......

Yeah, I have heard how post-state's-acquittals-and-subsequent-federal-civil-rights prosecutions are not violations of the double jeopardy principle, how they are different jurisdictions, prosecuting different crimes, and I say bull, and so should you too, if you believe that the constitution should protect all, particularly the vulnerable. If federal civil rights charges are not a second go around for the same offense after the defendant has won in state court then why don't the feds ever prosecute civil rights violations before the state prosecutes? It is not as if the federal authorities always or usually give deference to to state in prosecutions. In most cases when the feds and state are contesting jurisdiction the feds take the case away from the state.

The crowd shrieks for the contemned officers' blood, should they not have the Constitution on their side?

that's for murder. Once acquitted murder you may not be tried again.

and/or if you are on trial for your life.

>>that's for murder. Once acquitted murder you may not be tried again.

and/or if you are on trial for your life.<<

This Constitutional right was NOT reserved solely for crimes of murder. Until 45 years ago the enjoinment against double jeopardy was presumed to cover all crimes. 45 years ago the state was frustrated that murderers in the South got off due to jury nullification. OK, that's a problem, a big problem. It sucks. A criminal goes free. But it is far worse to give the state the power to repeatedly go after the defendant. The solution should not have been to jettison a Constitutional right by a dubious distinction between jurisdictions.

Beware. Such tactics can (and will) be used against you and yours in the future. Stick to principles. Be safe.

Daniel, you're wrong about the principle at stake. Double jeopardy forbids trying someone again for the same crime. There's no principle against trying someone for separate crimes stemming from the same incident.

It makes perfect sense that the feds would wait until after the state trial to launch a civil rights investigation. The cops were going to be tried in New York for the shootings no matter what. It was a cinch to secure those indictments because nobody disputed that the accused killed one unarmed guy and wounded two others in a hail of 50 bullets in the course of a botched undercover operation. There was no question that a criminal trial was necessary to adjudicate the allegations against the cops. Did they murder him? Did they unlawfully kill him? Were they negligent or reckless in their work. These are the kinds of questions that trials are supposed to adjudicate. Having heard the evidence, a New York judge says no.

But the judge didn't rule on the question of whether these public servants (the police officers) infringed upon the civil rights of citizens (the victims).

It has not yet been determined whether there is enough evidence of a civil rights violation to open a federal case. That's a much more complicated question than whether there should have been a swift criminal trial for the killings. The DOJ is still in the investigation phase.

The principle at stake is that a complaint deserves an investigation, and if necessary a fair trial.

Civil rights are safeguarded by the federal authorities for a reason. The US has a long history of State justice systems refusing to enforce their own criminal laws in racially charged situations, especially when the alleged perpetrators are themselves work in the system.

The fact that someone isn't guilty of murder in the eyes of New York State has no bearing on whether they are guilty of federal civil rights violations. These are two different allegations with different penalties under different laws in different jurisdictions. Logically, you can murder someone without deliberately depriving them of their civil rights (in the relevant legal sense). Or vice versa.

Based on what I've read in the press, I'm doubtful that there is enough evidence to open a viable federal case. The standard is pretty strict: In order to get a conviction, the government would have to prove that the officers deliberately deprived Bell and his companions of their civil rights.

put in jeopardy of life or limb;

Daniel I should have said capital offenses. I've read cases where they have tried folks for first-degree and they've been acquitted. IF the prosecutor was going after the death sentence and fails to get it they then retry them under lesser charges but they MAY NOT face the death penalty again.(life or limb)
It's a perversion that they can then go ... okay, so we'll try them on this... etc... that would be an overzealous prosecutor or, as in this case(IMO) a strong presumption of guilt that a judge/jury somehow declined and possibly would agree to a lesser crime.
The precedence of pushing for civil rights in federal is longstanding. I think it's a SHAME that a person has to go so far for justice.
The prosecutor should have gone for a mistrial and set things right.
I DO agree with your final sentence.
BUT, officers who are or SHOULD BE held to a higher regard for safety and respect for life should not be immune.
If this was an avg. citizen under the same circumstances they would be trying them for a range of things.
In Florida many laws are perverse.
I would like to live in a state where a citizen can petition for a grand jury. There's less than half a dozen in America.

Every sword cuts both ways.

The amount of firepower alone confers questions.
If we hadn't allowed the justice system to be bought and sellable we wouldn't have to worry about anything but human nature and that's frought with enough danger.

Shouldn't this be an obstacle to any further prosecution of the police officers?

Amendment 5 (to the United States Constitution) - Trial and Punishment, Compensation for Takings. Ratified 12/15/1791.

No. Double jeopardy only prevents you from being tried twice for the same crime. If the feds prosecute, it's going to be for criminal civil rights violations, not for murder/manslaughter/negligent homicide, so it's a different crime.

It's not easy to prove the intent necessary in this kind of case, so it's not really a surprise that there wasn't a conviction. But real change doesn't happen with criminal convictions of individual officers in state court; it happens with federal civil rights suits (civil cases brought under section 1983) that seek to hold the city liable and to get injunctive relief as well as monetary damages.

Because the NYPD doesn't change its policies as the result of the criminal conviction of three of its officers; it changes its policies as the result of a federal court ordering the city (and therefore, the department) to stop doing something or to do something.

No. Double jeopardy only prevents you from being tried twice for the same crime. If the feds prosecute, it's going to be for criminal civil rights violations, not for murder/manslaughter/negligent homicide, so it's a different crime.

This is correct. Double jeopardy only protects garden variety offenders from duplicative prosecution on the state level. If you, your crime, or your victim is striking enough to warrant selective federal attention, all bets are off. Jail for everyone -- hoooorayyy!

Regardless of what this judge ruled, the fact remains that there is a serious problem with this case.

First they cops are looking for prostitution and drug traffic in a strip club. Assuming that these are worth the effort that the cops go to to close down a strip joint where this activity might be taking place, they activity will move to a new venue, won't it? Why not bust the prostitutes and the drug dealers when you have a case... with uniformed evidence gathered by the undercover cops?

What happened is that these "cops" appeared as thugs with guns and the victims might very well have believed that and tried to escape with their lives... one didn't. But why were they being busted? There was no evidence that they were involved in prostitution or drugs and that the "evidence" that they may have had a weapon was scant. Why not call in a uniformed officer to frisk them? At least these fellas would not have thought they were about to be taken out and panicked and attempt to drive off, hitting the cop?

Why are blacks ALWAYS presumed guilty and cops ALWAYS presumed to be protecting themselves? How about the presumption that these fellas were protecting themselves by trying to get the hell out of there?

The cops caused this to get out of hand and they over reacted because there were no shots fired. If the car was about the get away, shoot out the tires, why shoot to kill the victims? No one is going to stick around to be the target for cops to unload their weapons and prove their manhood.

The policing policy is wrong. The training of these cops is wrong and there was no accountability for this.

Daniel, you're wrong about the principle at stake. Double jeopardy forbids trying someone again for the same crime. There's no principle against trying someone for separate crimes stemming from the same incident.

Lindsay, I don't think this is quite correct. If it were true, prosecutors could do what voxy claims they can do--try someone on a lesser count after he had been acquitted of first degree murder. The state is not entitled to mount a second prosecution for separate crimes stemming from the same incident.

I think the principal of double jeopardy really should restrict the government, whether at the state or federal level, from prosecuting an individual more than once for the same behavior. This would produce results which are sometimes repugnant, as in the present instance. But winning a federal conviction against the shooters won't solve what is the more serious problem here--the difficulty of successful state prosecutions of police officers even in cases of the most egregious criminal activity.

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