The San Francisco Chronicle reported, November 4th, that state court officials have recommended Los Angeles and San Diego counties as possible sites for the murder trial of former Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police Officer Johannes Mehserle.
Mehserle resigned as a police officer in Oakland, California, after shooting 22-year-old Oscar Grant, who was unarmed on January 1, 2009 at a train station. Mehserle has said through his attorneys that he intended to use his Taser to subdue Grant, but mistakenly fired his pistol instead.
The location of the trial is extremely important in the potential outcome of this case. There is likelihood for jurors to be affected by protestors who view the case as part of a pattern of police abuse against people of color– Mehserle is white and Grant was black.
Potential jurors are randomly selected from a fair cross-section of one’s community; typically from voter registration or drivers’ license lists. Los Angeles and San Diego counties both have large jury pools that differ in certain respects. According to a 2008 survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, 53 percent of Los Angeles County residents are white and 9 percent are black. In San Diego, 73 percent are white and 5 percent are black. Hence, the location of this trial may determine the perspective of any potential juror and therefore effect the outcome of the case.
Grant’s family would prefer the trial take place in Los Angeles, a county whose diversity more closely mirrors the Bay Area. Whereas, the defense wants the case to take place in San Diego because it is known to be law enforcement friendly, which could benefit them. The judge has set a date for November 19 for both sides to argue their case. A decision is expected shortly after.
Southwestern University law professor, Robert Pugsley, states: “Where you try the case, and who you have on the jury, has everything to do with the outcome.” Had the OJ Simpson case been filed in Santa Monica rather than Downtown Los Angeles, the Simpson jury would have been mostly white instead of, as was the case, mostly African-American. With poll data showing that most whites believed Simpson to be guilty and most blacks believing him to be not guilty, the decision to file the case in Santa Monica may have been the biggest mistake the prosecution made. The exact same case–in Santa Monica– could have gotten Simpson a conviction. Final jury for the OJ Simpson trial had 10 women and 2 men, of which there were 8 blacks, 2 Hispanics, 1 half-Native American, half-white, and 1 white female. Jury selection may be the most important part of a criminal trial.
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