Saturday, January 18, 2014

FBI to Investigate Kelly Thomas' death for possible charges


On Monday, a jury acquitted Officers Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli of charges related to the death of Kelly Thomas. Immediately afterwards, the FBI field office in Los Angeles announced that it would review the case to determine if federal charges would be brought against the officers.

The verdict was unpopular with civil libertarians, who cited the case as evidence of increasing police brutality, the result of a militarization trend in state and local police departments. They had hoped a guilty verdict would establish some accountability for officers who abuse their power.
They were correct to call attention to the case, but they should oppose federal charges against Ramos and Cicinelli. Affirming the authority of multiple governments to charge defendants with crimes for the same behavior loses the forest for the trees. While a conviction in federal court may feel good in this case, it further empowers the federal government to encroach upon state jurisdiction and weakens due process rights for defendants in general.

Bad laws and precedents are rarely set in relation to sympathetic defendants. Federal conspiracy and RICO statutes were originally passed in order to prosecute mob leaders for ordering murders or intimidating witnesses. Few opposed setting aside hearsay prohibitions and other rules of evidence for those defendants.
However, once passed, those same laws were used against hundreds of thousands of low-level drug offenders, resulting in disproportionately long sentences for relatively minor offenses.

 It is now routine for prosecutors to charge every drug offender with conspiracy for the express purpose of circumventing the rules of evidence that would otherwise apply. Judges are then required to sentence defendants not only for the drugs they were caught with but for any drugs even mentioned by witnesses in hearsay testimony.

That's how a defendant caught with a small amount of cocaine for personal use ends up serving 10 or 15 years for "drug trafficking." This is not an extreme example of what could happen. It's business as usual in federal drug cases. It's also one of the chief reasons the United States leads the world in prison population, at over 2.3 million incarcerated. A disproportionate number incarcerated are minorities. READ FULL HUFFINGTONPOST

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