22 July 2004

Moments of a Trial

A fellow Defense attorney clued me in to the fact that he had a very interesting case. Having finished my cases I go up to the Circuit Court to watch the trial. The charge is striking a police officer, a class 6 felony carrying up to 5 years in prison and a mandatory 6 months which the judge cannot suspend.

The trial’s start is delayed because the deputies cannot get 20 people to report to court (the bare minimum which must report for a jury trial). When it becomes obvious that 20 people are not going to report the Defendant, who had already spent several months in jail waiting for his trial date, waives the jury rather than wait another month or two for the next possible trial date.

Finally, everyone is ready. The prosecutor is sitting in his seat with the 200 lb., solid muscle officer sitting next to him. The judge comes out and takes his seat. Finally, the Defendant is brought in. I say brought in because he was wheeled into the courtroom in a wheelchair. The Defendant weighs maybe 100 lbs. soaking wet, suffers from cerebral palsy, and has almost no muscle strength.

As the trial progresses the story unfolds something like this: Police respond to a domestic disturbance call. When they arrive they find Defendant on a bed in the apartment. They search Defendant and then go to talk to the woman. While the training officer is talking to her the junior officer is watching Defendant. Defendant picks up his cigarettes and sticks them in his pocket. The officer makes him take them back out because Defendant had already been searched. At this point Defendant takes a pen out of his pants and says something to the effect of “I’ll kill you.” The officer is on the other side of the room and realizes that the guy can barely lift the pen much less make a lunge at him so he just tells Defendant to put it down. Defendant does.

Then the officers decide they must arrest the guy. At first they try to get him to walk out to the car but he only make it a few feet before his muscles give out. Then they decide to carry him. They handcuff his hands in front of him. The senior officer grabs his feet while the junior officer grabs him under the arms. They get a few feet outside the door when Defendant’s hand jerked up and hit the officer straight in the neck. From that point testimony went something like this:
Officer: “At that point I put him on the ground. While on the ground he was flailing about so then I capstunned him. He continued to move around and his hand latched onto a rake handle so I put my foot in the center of his back and told him I didn’t think that was a good idea.”
Cross examination:
D. Attorney: “When you put him down did you use any force?

Officer: “Yes, a little.”

Judge: “Do you mean to say you dropped him?”

Officer: “No sir, I put him down.”
At the end of the trial it is obvious that the Defendant struck the officer. The judge looks down from his bench and asks the prosecutor, “Don’t you think he got punished when they capstunned while he was lying on the ground?” Prosecutor: “(pause) Maybe so sir but we still ask you to convict him of the felony.” Judge: “I’ll convict him but all you’re getting is misdemeanor assault.”

Up to this point everyone in the courtroom is wondering why the prosecutor had gone forward on this case. While it’s obvious a battery took place it’s also kind of embarrassing to pursue a case wherein a young, strapping police officer claims to have been set upon by an older wheelchair bound cripple. Then, during sentencing arguments the prosecutor introduces the Defendant’s prior record. It has 6 assault & batteries, two of which are against police officers. It appears that this guy had a pattern of doing this sort of thing and then hiding behind his condition. The judge looked a little surprised and sentenced the man to 12 months on the misdemeanor.

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