Thursday, May 01, 2008


The Sean Bell case in New York has been in the news the last few days. In a bench trial (Judge, no jury), which lasted two months, the accused police officers were acquitted of unlawfully killing Mr. Bell, in an incident in which the police fired 50shots. The men who were shot did not fire any shots. Bell was killed. His two companions were wounded.

We have some general comments on the criminal procedure and practice, and we assume the accuracy of the newspaper reports.

In New Mexico, the State has a right to a jury trial, as well as the accused. If that is the case in New York, the question arises, did the District Attorney agree to waive the jury trial? If so, why?

The accused officers did not testify at the trial. The Judge is not allowed to infer guilt because of the silence of the accused. That rule was adopted by the Warren Court in 1965, in the case of Griffin v. California, and it was imposed on the States. This rule (no inference of guilt from silence) is contrary to common sense and fair play; but it is the law, because the Supreme Court has ruled.

In the New York trial, the Judge admitted into evidence the testimony of the accused officers given in front of the grand jury. Did the District Attorney fail to object (to the admission of that grand jury testimony), in the trial of the case to the Judge? Those statements were hearsay, and were objectionable.

If there had been an objection by the State and if the Judge had ruled correctly, those statements of the officers (grand jury testimony) would have been excluded. In such case, the accused might have been forced to take the stand and be subject to cross examination before the Judge who was trying the case.