Favorite

Cops and juries 

I try not to second-guess jury verdicts in trials I do not watch, as I know from the past decade as a criminal defense lawyer that what the jury sees and hears inside the courtroom is not always the same as what the public sees and hears outside the courtroom. When I found out the jury came back with a "not guilty" in the recent trial of Jeronimo Yanez, the police officer who shot Philando Castile during a traffic stop last year in Minnesota, I was saddened, but not surprised.

Over the years, almost every single time I've selected a jury or watched others select one, at least some of the potential jurors acknowledge after being questioned during the jury selection process that they tend to believe an officer's word over any other witness. Most of them are apologetic in their honesty, but here and there are those who are defiant and have clearly taken offense at the mere thought of a defendant exerting his or her Sixth Amendment right to a trial. I am always happy to hear honesty from potential jurors. The frightening alternative is that a juror is unwilling to admit or is unaware they carry that bias in favor of law enforcement. Either way, they cannot be fair if, at some point during the trial, an officer's word or actions are in question.  

It is hard to undo years of learning. From a young age, most of us are taught that there are those who are here to help: teachers, doctors, nurses, firefighters and police officers. For many, even when confronted with video or audio evidence, some still have a hard time overcoming this bias of trust and believe that someone, like a police officer, whose job it is to serve others would ever act in a manner inconsistent with that goal. Some will even go so far as to not believe an officer could make a mistake. I learned early in my career that if I could prove an officer was being untruthful or made an error during an investigation, I would be better off if I portrayed to the jury that the officer just made an honest mistake. That sometimes takes some mental and verbal gymnastics when the officer, in court, refuses to acknowledge the error or inconsistency, but the fact remains that it isn't wise to put some jurors in a position that, in order to find my client not guilty, they have to, as they perceive it, rule against the police. It's tough to hold my tongue sometimes, and it might be better in the long run to call it as I see it, but in that moment in trial, I have one job and that is to worry about the good of my client.

In Minnesota, just as in many recent trials all over the country, 12 jurors were asked to find that an officer committed a crime when he shot a black man during a routine stop. The jurors were asked to rule against the officer and find him guilty of manslaughter for killing Castile, or Mr. Phil as he was known to the students at the elementary school where he worked, while in the car with his fiancee and her daughter. Castile had a permit to carry a gun and told the officer he was carrying. For whatever reason, the jury could not or would not find that the evidence was enough to convict Yanez. I wasn't at the trial. I don't know what that jury heard and saw from the witnesses and attorneys. I couldn't say if the fact that some cannot overcome their trust and confidence in police as a whole contributed to the outcome.

I do know that, regardless of whether or not the jury rendered a decision in line with the evidence presented, to many people a clear message came out of that Minnesota courtroom: An officer can shoot a black man who is doing everything right and not be held accountable. I don't believe questioning this verdict or criticizing Officer Yanez is, as some would claim, an indictment or sweeping criticism of all police officers. But as we learn of another shooting this week in Seattle of Charleena Lyles, a pregnant mother of four, we have to find a way to talk about what is happening. We cannot as a country bury our heads in the sand and claim that the world is colorblind and that biases don't exist while ignoring the experiences of people of color. It is important for all of us who are hurt and frustrated by this verdict to stand and say that we believe Black Lives Matter and, despite what happened in that Minnesota courtroom last week, Philando Castile's life mattered, too.

Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Comments (7)

Showing 1-7 of 7

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-7 of 7

Add a comment

More by Autumn Tolbert

  • Time for a coalition

    While Hurricane Trump wreaks havoc on everything that is good and decent and democratic, another storm in the Democratic Party just won't let up. Many of us hoped the turmoil between Hillary Clinton's supporters and Sen. Bernie Sanders' supporters had finally subsided as both groups rallied together over the past few months to fight draconian changes in health care policy and the end of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
    • Sep 14, 2017
  • Cotton's plan

    With the amount of recent hand-wringing by the Republican Party, you'd think its members were getting ready to do something. It seems that every week, one or more GOP members of Congress come out with a statement denouncing the words or actions of President Trump or his supporters.
    • Aug 31, 2017
  • Home is where the hatred is

    According to the Southern Poverty Law Center's "Hate Map," a chapter of the Christian American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan is headquartered in Hoxie, a small town in Lawrence County that also holds the distinction of being the first battleground of the segregationists in the fight to integrate Arkansas schools.
    • Aug 17, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Schlafly's influence

    Phyllis Schlafly, mother, attorney and longtime antifeminist, died recently. What Schlafly promoted was not novel or new. Men had been saying that men and women were not equal for years. However, anti-feminism, anti-women language had much more power coming from a woman who professed to be looking out for the good of all women and families.
    • Sep 15, 2016
  • Wrasslin' Trump

    I first thought the Sunday morning video clip of President Trump wrestling was something from one of the many parody accounts on Twitter.
    • Jul 6, 2017
  • Another Jesus

    If you follow the logic of Jason Rapert and his supporters, God is very pleased so many have donated money to rebuild a giant stone slab with some rules on it. A few minutes on Rapert's Facebook page (if he hasn't blocked you yet) also shows his supporters believe that Jesus wants us to lock up more people in prison, close our borders to those in need and let poor Americans fend for themselves for food and health care.
    • Jul 20, 2017

Most Shared

  • ASU to reap $3.69 million from estate of Jim and Wanda Lee Vaughn

    Arkansas State University announced today plans for spending an expected $3.69 million gift in the final distribution of the estate of Jim and Wanda Lee Vaughn, who died in 2013 and 2015 respectively.
  • Bad health care bill, again

    Wait! Postpone tax reform and everything else for a while longer because the Senate is going to try to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act one more time before September ends and while it can do it with the votes of only 50 senators.
  • Sex on campus

    Look, the Great Campus Rape Crisis was mainly hype all along. What Vice President Joe Biden described as an epidemic of sexual violence sweeping American college campuses in 2011 was vastly overstated.
  • The inadequate legacy of Brown

    LRSD continues to abdicate its responsibility to educate poor black students.

Latest in Autumn Tolbert

  • Time for a coalition

    While Hurricane Trump wreaks havoc on everything that is good and decent and democratic, another storm in the Democratic Party just won't let up. Many of us hoped the turmoil between Hillary Clinton's supporters and Sen. Bernie Sanders' supporters had finally subsided as both groups rallied together over the past few months to fight draconian changes in health care policy and the end of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
    • Sep 14, 2017
  • Cotton's plan

    With the amount of recent hand-wringing by the Republican Party, you'd think its members were getting ready to do something. It seems that every week, one or more GOP members of Congress come out with a statement denouncing the words or actions of President Trump or his supporters.
    • Aug 31, 2017
  • Home is where the hatred is

    According to the Southern Poverty Law Center's "Hate Map," a chapter of the Christian American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan is headquartered in Hoxie, a small town in Lawrence County that also holds the distinction of being the first battleground of the segregationists in the fight to integrate Arkansas schools.
    • Aug 17, 2017
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »

September

S M T W T F S
  1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30

Most Viewed

  • Sex on campus

    Look, the Great Campus Rape Crisis was mainly hype all along. What Vice President Joe Biden described as an epidemic of sexual violence sweeping American college campuses in 2011 was vastly overstated.
  • Can't afford to gut ACA

    The Affordable Care Act was passed into law with the promise that it would make insurance affordable. Because of bipartisan leadership in Arkansas, we continue to strive to achieve that goal. While rhetoric abounds, it is important to understand the Arkansas experience.
  • Bad health care bill, again

    Wait! Postpone tax reform and everything else for a while longer because the Senate is going to try to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act one more time before September ends and while it can do it with the votes of only 50 senators.
  • Storm president

    It's undeniable that President Trump's public approval has improved since the moment Hurricane Harvey came ashore in Texas the last week of August; polls showed his popularity up by approximately 2 points.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Time for a coalition

    • Shiny, nobody is saying that Hillary isn't entitled to speak. Shit, the more she talks,…

    • on September 21, 2017
  • Re: Bad health care bill, again

    • Its hard to tell what the GOP in Arkansas care about beyond making life worse…

    • on September 20, 2017
  • Re: Time for a coalition

    • I am very glad to see a lot of women running for government positions in…

    • on September 19, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation