Legal Speaks Home Debbie Hines Bio Blog TV Clips Practice Areas Res Ipsa Loquitur Links Contact
Blog Home

Archive for December, 2016

The Trump Era and Justice for People of Color

Monday, December 5th, 2016

President Elect Donald Trump has nominated Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions as his pick for Attorney General of the U.S. Sessions is a lightning bolt for anything related to civil rights and justice for people of color. Much of the progress seen in the Eric Holder era and now Loretta Lynch era may likely soon be erased with a much darker side taking its place. The prior history of Sessions speaking out in support of the Klu Klux Klan (“KKK”) in the past years, is troubling for civil rights advancement.

Some of the areas at risk are police consent decrees, federal police lawsuits for excessive force and death of unarmed individuals, immigration legislation deferring deportation of “Dreamers”, reduction of mandatory minimums, Voting Rights legislation, federal lawsuits opposing voter disenfranchisement and the Civil rights Division, itself. Sessions favors increasing the prison population. Former Attorney General Eric Holder favored decreasing the prison population by reducing non-violent drug sentences and reducing mandatory minimums. Sessions opposes reducing sentences, even if non-violent. Sessions is in favor of increased surveillance without the need for a search warrant. Former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was notoriously known for wiring taping civil rights activists, Martin Luther King and anyone that deemed to speak out in favor of civil rights. And Donald Trump has previously stated he favors stop and frisk laws which were previously held unconstitutional.

Justice is at risk in the Trump era.

On the Bill Press show on December 1, I elaborate on the ways a Trump era Department of Justice may be a major setback for justice and civil rights for people of color.

Listen and Watch Here:

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal analyst and former Baltimore prosecutor. She often appears on MSNBC, PBS, CBS, Al Jazeera, BET and Fox 5 DC.

Why Walter Scott’s Killer May be Re-Tried–Even if Found Guilty

Saturday, December 3rd, 2016


 

 

 
Debbie Hines on MSNBC explains the Michael Slager trial and the implications of the lone juror holdout.

Former Charleston, SC police officer Michael Slager, who is on trial for the murder of Walter Scott, after firing 5 shots into Scott’s back, while fleeing from the officer, may get an early Christmas present—his freedom. As of Friday, a jury of 11 white persons and one lone black juror failed to reach an unanimous verdict. Eleven of the jurors support a conviction of either first degree murder or voluntary manslaughter. One lone hold-out states in a letter given to the judge that he or she is unable to come to a guilty verdict and won’t come to a verdict (paraphrased). Judge Newman did not order a mistrial on Friday, December 2. Instead, Judge Newman instructed the jury to go home over the weekend and continue deliberations on Monday, December 5. Michael Slager may have already won his freedom and the right to a new trial with the help of the one lone dissenting juror.

The video taken by a bystander witness showed Slager firing shots into the back of Walter Scott as he ran away 17 feet from the officer, after being stopped for a busted tail light on his car. The video further shows Slager attempting to plant a Taser gun at the feet of Scott following the shooting. No evidence in the trial showed that Scott ever had possession of the Taser. Slager’s testimony stated that he was in fear of Scott. No case is ever a slam dunk. However, this case is a classic example of a first degree murder case. Nonetheless, the jury is deadlocked.

In a case where a jury becomes what it feels is deadlocked, most judges will give or read what is called the “Allen charge” which tells the jurors to continue to deliberate and to keep an open mind. The Allen charge does not allow the other 11 jurors, as in the case of Slager, to coerce the lone juror into changing his or her mind. That would be sufficient grounds for an appeal.

There are several points that are interesting in the Slager trial. In all jury trials, whether criminal or civil, the judge instructs that the foreperson should send notes to the judge whenever there is a question or issue with deliberations. The foreperson speaks for the jury through written notes. So, it is interesting that the lone juror chose to write a separate note to the presiding judge. And it is even more interesting that the note possessed all of the appropriate legal buzz language needed to assist the defendant, in the event the lone juror changes his or her mind and votes with the other eleven for a conviction.

While I hate suggesting conspiracy theories, I do find it strange, for lack of a better word, that this one lone juror has almost made it his cause to declare the defendant not guilty. While that is the right of any particular juror to vote his or her conscience, it seems that there might be more here with this lone juror. The note suggests almost some form of legal training to state the appropriate buzz word language to give a new trial to the defendant, even if a guilty verdict is reached.

Unless a juror later speaks to the media, which often does occur in many high profile cases, the public does not know any information about the juror such as education, occupation, age or other material information. That information is solely known to the lawyers, judge, parties and court room clerks. This lone hold-out appears to be going above and beyond what a hold out juror usually does by letting the foreperson advise the judge of the circumstances.

As the days and perhaps weeks go on, we may come to learn more about the lone hold-out juror. For now, that juror has given Michael Slager his freedom whether through a mistrial, if declared, or a guilty verdict, if rendered. The tone for grounds for appeal are clearly already set by this lone hold-out juror, if he/she has a change of mind to convict Slager.

Judge Newman has indicated if a mistrial is declared, the case will be re-tried. While it is important for closure to the family of Walter Scott that a verdict be rendered, declaring a mistrial now will save the family more heartache down the road. If a guilty verdict is rendered next week, the defendant will undoubtedly appeal.   It is better to declare a mistrial now that having to redo a trial several years later.

 

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal analyst and former Baltimore prosecutor. She can be seen on MSNBC, CBS, PBS, Al Jazeera, BET, Fox 5 DC and other news outlets.

police-chase_medium