Thursday, April 24, 2008

Predictions In The Sean Bell Manslaughter Case

Tomorrow Queens Supreme Court Justice Arthur Cooperman will announce his verdict in the Sean Bell Police Manslaughter case. You will remember Bell is the Queens (NY) man who was killed in a hail of police bullets the night before his wedding. He was unarmed. The case is the latest in a number of police brutality/misconduct cases in New York City. It was well prosecuted and well defended. The issues came out better for the defense than people thought they would. It doesn't matter however, because the case is still one that is more or less a subjective issue. Did the police act recklessly or was their behavior reasonable in light of what they saw and what they knew at the time that they acted.

Justice Cooperman is irascible and sometimes unpredictable. He is pro law enforcement yet can get angry when they overstep the fine line between good police work and criminality. He is considered a harsh sentencing judge by most defense counsel. I tried a Criminal Possession of a Weapon/Assault 1* case before him and he was "difficult" at best. He yelled at me and on one occasion threatened me with sanctions. I was, in my opinion, doing my job. It was a case where I had a Perry Mason Moment too. That was exciting. I prevailed in that case and the jury felt the judge had been unkind and tried to bully me. It hurt the prosecution more than it ever hurt my case.

On the other hand, I could see the judge trying to be fair even though I thought he had decided that my client was guilty. Truth be told, I may not be the easiest defense attorney in Queens or Long Island to deal with either. All in all it was a positive experience.

I have also had a hearing before him. In that case (a SORA review) he quickly grasped the issues and allowed me room to develop my case and ultimately ruled in my favor. It was a few years after the original trial I had before him and I was surprised to learn he remembered me. He appeared happy to see me again which tells me he did not hold a grudge.

Tomorrow, Cooperman will make the biggest decision of his judicial life. He is Seventy Four (74) years and he cannot stand for re-election. Popularity is not going to be a part of his decision. I think his belief in law enforcement and his disdain for those who are disrespectful to the law may in fact bring his verdict in for the police officers in this case. I think he is going to think the people's witnesses to be dangerous and be underplaying their role in the case. He will find the police in an untenable position and that they could consider their lives in danger. For what a prediction is worth, I think that the verdict will be:

Manslaughter 2 for Officer Michael Oliver who fired 31 shots;

Reckless endangerment for Gescard Isnora (although I wouldn't be surprised by a not guilty verdict here;)

Not guilty for Detective Marc Cooper.

Either way, I also predict great gnashing of teeth.
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