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A Cursory Look at the Johannes Mehserle Trial - THREE
by Thandisizwe Chimurenga
Tuesday May 18th, 2010 11:03 PM
A brief look at various issues of the defense and the prosecution in the trial of Oscar Grant's killer
The May 7 hearing for Johannes Mehserle, the former transit cop who killed Oscar Grant on New Year’s Day of 2009, settled several key issues prior to the beginning of the trial scheduled for June 2010. The waters have been somewhat muddied, however, due to much of the media coverage surrounding this case, both before and after the May 7 hearing.

THREE: Police Privilege

Superior Court Judge Robert Perry denied Mehserle’s March 26th Motion to Augment Jury Venire. Rains’ motion was a challenge to the California Code of Civil Procedure, section 219, which excludes uniformed law enforcement officers from serving on juries. Rains’ stated that police officers as a class are systematically excluded from jury service whereas other “classes,” such as firemen, teachers, or social workers, are not excluded.

Rains’ argument was that the inclusion of this “class” (police officers) in the pool of potential jurors would provide a greater opportunity for Johannes Mehserle’s Constitutional (U.S. and California) right to a fair and impartial jury to be realized. 

Rains argued in his motion that the perspective of police should be part of the jury since “the unique powers given to law enforcement officers, as well as the constraints imposed upon them and the organizational structures which define their daily existence, cannot be shared by other members of the community who are outside this profession.” 

Judge Perry noted that “Federal agents, FBI, Homeland Security, retired officers have the types of experiences similar to Mehserle,” inferring that such persons are currently allowed to sit on juries. As it is California law to exclude uniformed officers from jury service, the judge denied the motion.

Rains also sought to have the court direct the District Attorney and prosecution witnesses to refer to Mehserle as “Officer Mehserle” during the trial in an April 23 motion. Rains argued that doing so would avoid the speculation of guilt by jurors that may arise from the fact that Mehserle resigned rather than provide a statement to BART investigators of his account of the shooting of Oscar Grant. 

Judge Perry stated that “he is no longer an officer” and “that would allow confusion,” and the defense’s motion was denied.

And rightly so.

Johannes Mehserle resigned from his employ with BART, through his lawyer, on the very day that he was supposed to be interviewed by BART investigators about his killing of Oscar Grant. He subsequently fled the state and went to Nevada.

Mehserle’s defense maintains that he did not flee but left, with full knowledge of the Alameda County District Attorney’s office, and that his departure was because he feared for his safety. This notwithstanding, he was arrested in Nevada and returned to California.

Defense Attorney Rains submitted a motion asking the court for a bail amount of $100,000. Mehserle’s bail was set at $3 million. 

Such a high bail amount can only be due to the facts of committing a homicide and being a flight risk. 

Rains’ request to have Mehserle’s bail lowered at a prior preliminary hearing was denied by Perry who stated in court that he believed Mehserle did indeed pose a flight risk.

Mehserle’s bail and his defense are said to have been paid for by police unions and a “statewide fund for police officers.”

Why is Johannes Mehserle enjoying the perks of law enforcement privilege even though he resigned his position as a law enforcement officer and fled the state to avoid questioning?
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