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Johannes Mehserle Denied Bail

| December 3, 2010
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From the Oakland Tribune:

A Los Angeles judge has denied bail for former BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle.

Mehserle’s attorney Michael Rains had asked Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert Perry for bail arguing in court Friday that his client met the three criteria necessary for a defendant to be released from jail on bail while an appeal is considered.

Those criteria include not being a flight risk, not being a danger to society and having “substantial issues on appeal” that would lead a judge to believe a conviction could be overturned. Full article

Mehserle, the former BART policeman who shot and killed an unarmed, 22-year old Oscar Grant in 2009, was sentenced by Perry last month to two years. Close to 300 days, however, were deducted from his sentence for time served and good behavior. A bystander video of the killing was viewed around the world.

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Three days ago, the Oakland Tribune examined Mehserle’s chances for today’s hearing, interviewing Robert Weisberg, director of Stanford University’s criminal justice center.

Whether former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle is released on bail Friday will largely depend on whether the judge who heard the jury trial believes an appeal of the involuntary manslaughter conviction will be successful… Though Perry must consider two other factors — flight risk and danger to society — in deciding if bail is warranted, it will be the judge’s view of the future appeal that will be the deciding factor, legal experts said. And that decision, (an expert) said, will probably go against Mehserle.

“I’d be very surprised if bail was granted,” said Robert Weisberg, professor of law at Stanford Law School and director of the university’s criminal justice center. “At this point, the phrase ‘don’t press your luck’ comes to mind…”

Having a defendant released on bail after a conviction is not a right as it is while a defendant faces trial, Weisberg said. As a result, he said, it becomes harder to argue that bail should be granted.

“It’s hard for him to say now that it is a right to get out, it is more of a privilege,” Weisberg said.

In addition, he said, the judge will probably consider the outrage a release would cause and consider Mehserle’s safety. But Weisberg said the biggest factor will be Mehserle’s chance for winning appeal.

“The biggest issue, as the prosecutor says, is that he does not have that great a case on appeal,” Weisberg said. Full article

Meanwhile, California Watch’s Lance Williams, drawing on 2009 statistics from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, yesterday wrote that “Californians who haven’t killed anybody routinely do more prison time than the sentence Mehserle faces.”

People convicted of armed robbery served 54.5 months – more than double Mehserle’s term. People convicted of selling controlled substances served 33 months.

Californians who spent 24 months in state prison – Mehserle’s sentence – had been convicted of such crimes as assault and battery, escape, or possession of controlled substances for sale.

This Nov 17 blog post in the San Francisco Chronicle, highlighting Judge Perry’s comments at Mehserle’s sentencing, may shed some light on his thinking in levying what some consider to be a very lenient sentence. This excerpt is particularly interesting:

Perry…went into great detail to explain why the shooting must have been an accident. One factor he cited was that Mehserle had no good reason to shoot Grant — which was precisely why prosecutors said the ex-officer should face harsh punishment.

Pirone was virtually in the line of fire. That is suggestive that this was an accident. Mehserle was on the platform for a very brief period, a matter of slightly more than two minutes, before pulling his gun and shooting Grant. He was not threatened by Grant, he had no reason to pull his gun and shoot Grant. Mehserle had absolutely no motive to shoot Grant. He didn’t know Grant and had never interacted with Grant before. Of great significance in the court’s ruling is that Mehserle announced he was going to Tase Grant. This statement was corroborated by Pirone and (Grant’s friend) Jackie Bryson. Mehserle stood to gain distance, which would be required for the shooting of a Taser to be effective. It would not have been required to fire a gun. Mehserle fired once, which is consistent with shooting a Taser and inconsistent with firearm training, which says if you’re going to shoot, you shoot more than once — you double or triple tap is the phrase used. Mehserle pulled on his service revolver in a manner suggestive of trying to pull out a Taser. He was pushing in. It took him several efforts to pull the gun. After the shooting his hands immediately went to his head in obvious shock and surprise. This is again inconsistent with an intention to shoot. (Grant’s friend Carlos) Reyes heard Mehserle say, “Oh, s–. Oh, s–. I shot him.” Again, further evidence that this was an unintentional shooting.

Perry said Mehserle had been justified in using a Taser on Grant because, he said, Grant was not complying with the officer’s effort to handcuff him. Prosecutors had argued that using any weapon on Grant was excessive because he was unarmed and on his chest, pinned under two officers. Full post

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  • DeeDee

    Comparing the sentence given to sentences for other crimes is like comparing apples and oranges. The legislature sets the options for sentencing, and guidelines on how the judge should rule given the circumstances. Judges are not free to just pick any sentence they feel like. If people don’t like the sentencing options, then lobby your representatives to change this. Just remember that if YOU or one of your loved ones ever accidentally and unintentionally kills someone, you’ll be facing those new, tougher sentences if the law is successfully amended.

    Also, there’s a big difference between people who INTENTIONALLY commit crimes such as armed robbery (where they are deliberately and maliciously attacking and victimizing others), and someone who makes a tragic but unintended MISTAKE. If Mehserle has intended to kill Grant, he’d be facing a much longer sentence than for other intentional crimes (such as armed robbery). Again… apples and oranges.

  • Gman arthur

    How much time did Oscar do with that record of his?