Police officers are bypassing juries to face judges

Daniel Epps, associate professor of law

 

The city where I live and work has been roiled by protests after the acquittal of former city police officer Jason Stockley on first-degree murder charges for his 2011 shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith. Again, to many of us, the justice system seems unwilling to hold law-enforcement officers to account for violence against people of color.

The outcome is unquestionably troubling. Prosecutors alleged that Stockley planted a gun in Smith’s vehicle to fabricate a self-defense claim. There was evidence to support that theory: The victim’s DNA was not found on the gun, but Stockley’s DNA was present. The defense maintained that Stockley’s partner had spotted the gun in Smith’s hand before the stop and that Stockley’s DNA was present because he unloaded the weapon to render it safe after finding it in Smith’s car.

But perhaps as important as the decision is who rendered it. The fact-finder in Stockley’s trial was not a jury of 12 St. Louisans but instead one man employed by the state: Judge Timothy J. Wilson of Missouri’s 22nd Judicial Circuit. That’s because Stockley, over the prosecution’s objection, requested what’s known as a “bench trial.”

Read the full piece in the Washington Post.

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