Police, Misconduct, Brutality, Wrongful Death, Walton and Brown, Sean Walton, Chanda Brown, Civil Rights, Excessive Force

Why Do Juries Acquit Police Officers Accused of Brutality and Misconduct?

Oftentimes, juries will rule in favor of police officers accused of excessive force and wrongful shooting deaths despite video and other persuasive evidence. The Buffalo News asked lawyers and experts for their take on this apparent and increasingly recent trend and received varied responses.

Maria Haberfield, a professor of police science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, believes that jurors often do not get the “benefit of the doubt.” Unlike the public, which may be familiar with the allegations against an officer or may have seen just a brief video of the incident, the jury hears a more complete story. “The public tends to see a fragment, a small piece of what’s happening,” she said. “I think it’s an eye-opener for jurors.” She believes that most jurors can’t help but come away from their trial experience realizing that “police work involves force” and that officers are both trained and authorized to use it quite frequently.

John Elmore, a Buffalo lawyer who has both defended and sued cops, has a different take than Professor Haberfield. He believes that a juror’s political affiliations and race play a large role when making their final verdict on a case. Elmore argues that conservative and white jurors will be more sympathetic to white police officers. This was demonstrated in the trial of Corey Krug, a white police officer who faced three separate allegations of excessive force against a black man in 2014. The trial resulted in two of the three allegations against Krug to be dropped, while the final allegation is still pending due to a court deadlock. Only one juror out of the twelve was black. "I'm not suggesting white people can't be fair jurors," Elmore said, "but it's important to have people who are exposed to people of diverse backgrounds." 

Other veteran prosecutors argue that these acquittals indicate that there is often a “pro-police bias” among jurors. "People respect the police," said John E. Rogowski, a Buffalo defense lawyer who handled several police misconduct cases as a federal prosecutor. "It's hard for a jury to hear a convicted felon sit up there on the witness stand and accuse a police officer of using excessive force."  

Of course, the decision of a jury varies from case to case depending on its particulars.  One aspect that the public often doesn't realize is that not every case goes to trial. Many criminal cases against police officers do not move forward because a prosecutor fails to secure an indictment by a grand jury; civil cases against police officers are often thrown out by a judge at the summary judgment phase, without ever being heard by a jury. Whether or not these trends will continue in the foreseeable future remains to be seen, but what is clear is that for various reasons, police officers are not often disciplined for misconduct. 

Disclaimer: The materials available on this page are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. If you still have questions about police misconduct, it would be best for you to contact an attorney to obtain advice with respect to any issue or problem. Use and access to this website or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship.


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