Can the Ferguson PD be saved?

Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Opinion

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After a police officer shot Michael Brown, the Federal Department of Justice conducted an investigation into the Ferguson, Missouri, Police Department. What investigators found was a "pattern and practice" of discrimination against African-Americans. In a town with a black population of 67%, black people represented 85% of vehicle searches, 90% of the traffic violations and 93% of the arrests. There is no way to justify this.

The Department of Justice has an opportunity to gut the Ferguson Police Department and rebuild it from scratch. In fact, it's more than an opportunity: It's a necessity.

DOJ Fails to Address Problems with Forensic Evidence

Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Opinion

I read, with disgust, an article announcing that the only federal judge on a commission to improve forensic science in the criminal justice system had to resign in protest after criticizing the Department of Justice for causing the commission to be wholly ineffective. US District Judge Jed S. Rakoff could no longer tolerate DOJ's refusal to work towards a better exchange of information between prosecutors and defense attorneys, particularly regarding forensic experts.

Judge Rakoff said, "I believe it reflects the determination by the Department of Justice to place strategic advantage over a search for the truth." His words are both troubling and frightening. I liken this to prosecutors who protest or object to new trials when DNA evidence exonerates a convicted citizen. If we are to maintain trust in a criminal justice system -- a system already under attack for its deficiencies, we cannot allow artificial inadequacies to be injected intentionally.

Prosecutors are to seek justice, not just convictions. The awesome power we entrust to them has devastating consequences when abused. How can any prosecutor argue that less disclosure is better? Justice does not live in the shadows cast by hidden information, it only survives out in the open.

We look at the Department of Justice as being not only the best law enforcement agency in our country, but throughout the world. But that is an honor that DOJ must earn every day through honesty, integrity and transparency. Citizens, particularly citizens accused, deserve no less.

The Marissa Alexander Case Shows the Problems With Mandatory Minimum Sentencing

Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Opinion

cnnThe Marissa Alexander case provides an excellent example of how an "imperfect" self-defense argument can have devastating and disproportionate consequences. Because the jury did not accept Ms. Alexander's self-defense argument, they had to convict. What they probably didn’t realize (because in Florida juries aren’t told the sentences attached to their verdicts) is that they triggered Florida’s 10-20-Life mandatory sentencing requirement.

In Florida, a person who uses a gun in the commission of certain felonies (including aggravated assault) must face minimum mandatory sentencing. If the gun is possessed during the commission of one of the enumerated felonies, a minimum 10-year sentence is required. If the gun was discharged, as it was in this case, it is 20 years. Florida’s minimum mandatory sentences are served day-per-day; there is no early release.

It might be appropriate to impose minimum mandatories on violent felons who use guns to further the commission of a crime such as armed robbery. The idea, however, that Florida does not allow any discretion--even judicial discretion--for more complicated scenarios truly makes it difficult to adjudicate these cases.

Why Police Body Camera's Will Work

Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Opinion

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama pledged $263 million to procure body cameras and training for up to 50,000 police officers. On Wednesday, a grand jury declined to charge the New York Police Department officer whose chokehold contributed to the death of Eric Garner -- an incident captured in full on video. Unsurprisingly, Thursday brought cries of "what's the use?" After all, an officer walked even though there is a video of the killing.

So, body cameras must not make any difference, right?

Wrong. The fact is that even though the grand jury decided not to charge Officer Daniel Pantaleo over Garner's death, having a video of the incident has still had a huge impact -- without the video, the story wouldn't be leading the headlines, and protesters wouldn't have assembled to demand change.

Ray Rice Doesn't Deserve a Second Chance

Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Opinion

Ray Rice, the embattled Baltimore Ravens running back, told Matt Lauer in an interview on the "Today" show that "the only thing I can hope for and wish for is a second chance." Rice was captured on film delivering a knock-out punch to his fiancee, now wife, in an Atlantic City hotel elevator. I don't think he should get that second chance he is asking for.

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