|U.S. Judge Madeline Haikala|
Which is more damaging to our society, a corrupt/incompetent judge handling a case of constitutional importance or a jury tainted with racism deciding such a case?
U.S. v. Eric Parker raises this troubling question, plus many others. Parker is the Madison, Alabama, police officer who body slammed and partially paralyzed Sureshbhai Patel, an unarmed grandfather from India who simply was walking down a sidewalk at the time of his encounter with American law enforcement.
We don't have an answer to the question posed above, but evidence is overwhelming that judicial incompetence (or corruption) and juror racism (or blinding ignorance) were present. This much is certain: U.S. Judge Madeline Haikala stomped on any notion that justice can be achieved in Alabama's federal courts when she threw out criminal charges against Parker--after two juries had reached deadlocks.
Now, back to our two-part question:
(1) Are white jurors so blinded by racial bias that they cannot issue just decisions?
Americans have a tendency to get misty-eyed about our jury system, to feel that it's virtually sacrosanct and ranks as "the best system in the world." If that's the case, it's not because our system is noble and dependable; it's because all of the other systems are wretched.
How bad were the juries in the two Parker trials? Consider this from a Think Progress article on the proceedings:
The trials ended with a jury split along race and gender lines. Ten white males pushed to acquit and two black female jurors pushed for guilty.
Are white males in Alabama so blinded by bias against people of color that they cannot see what clearly is shown on video of the incident? (See video at the end of this post.) The images cannot be disputed: Parker used his left foot to perform a "leg sweep" that caused Patel to crash head-first to the ground. Multiple expert witnesses testified at trial that the leg sweep generally is not an authorized technique in American law enforcement, and relevant law clearly states that actions showing "reckless disregard" for a person's rights amount to the "wilfullness" required for a criminal conviction under 18 U.S.C. 242.
To repeat our question: Are white males so blinded by racial bias that they cannot reach a verdict of guilty against a white police officer -- when the facts and the law clearly show such a verdict is justified? The only answer we can come up with is yes.
(2) How blatant, and goofy, can judicial incompetence/corruption be, and what impact does it have on our justice system?
Was Judge Haikala drinking, or smoking crack, when she presided over the case and wrote her opinion?
I'm only slightly joking with that question. The reality is that Haikala probably gave the job of writing the opinion to a clerk, with instructions to make sure it was 90 pages or so long -- so people would think it was serious and be less likely to read it. What do you learn if you actually read the whole thing? Well, I can only wonder if Judge Haikala has a few loose shingles on her roof -- or maybe the clerk was desperate for material to reach the required length. Let's focus on two issues:
(A) Haikala suggests that it was partly Patel's fault that he got beat up by an Alabama cop. First, she suggests Patel committed a crime -- one so obscure that even the officers apparently were not aware of it. On page 14 of her opinion, Haikala (or her clerk) writes:
Mr. Patel, a resident alien, violated 8 U.S.C. § 1304(e) when he left his son’s house without identification. . . . That is a misdemeanor crime for which Officer Parker could have arrested Mr. Patel. 8 U.S.C. § 1304(e) (“Every alien, eighteen years of age and over, shall at all times carry with him and have in his personal possession any certificate of alien registration receipt card issued to him pursuant to subsection (d) of this section. Any alien who fails to comply with the provisions of this subsection shall be guilty of a misdemeanor . . . .”); United States v. Vasquez-Ortiz, 344 Fed. Appx. 551, 555 (11th Cir. 2009)
From the record, it does not appear this was an issue at trial, and it's not clear if the officers ever asked Patel to present such a card. It certainly is not clear that Patel understood any such request. Is Haikala suggesting that Patel's failure to have such a card on him justifies getting his neck broken?
Given the language barrier in the encounter, it's not clear Patel could have complied if he'd had a card. This much is certain: Nothing in the language surrounding 18 U.S.C. 242 ("Deprivation of rights under color of law") suggests the presence or absence of identification is a factor in determining an officer's guilt or innocence. So why on earth did Haikala make it an issue?
(B) Astonishingly, Haikala spends roughly nine pages (p. 53-61) of her ruling discussing whether the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable force applies to a legal resident alien, such as Patel. That a federal judge apparently thinks there is some doubt about that issue boggles the mind. From pages 53-54 of her ruling:
United States citizens’ constitutional right to be free from a law enforcement officer’s use of unreasonable force is specific and definite. See Graham, 490 U.S. at 394 (“Where, as here, the excessive force claim arises in the context of an arrest or investigatory stop of a free citizen, it is most properly characterized as one invoking the protections of the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees citizens the right ‘to be secure in their persons . . . against unreasonable . . . seizures’ of the person.”) (emphasis added); Weiland v. Palm Beach Cnty. Sheriff's Office, 792 F.3d 1313, 1326 (11th Cir. 2015) (“A citizen’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures includes ‘the right to be free from the use of excessive force in the course of an arrest.’”)(quoting Saunders v. Duke, 766 F.3d 1262, 1267 (11th Cir. 2014) (emphasis added)).
Haikala seems to suggest that the Fourth Amendment protects only an American citizen, not a resident alien, such as Patel. Where does she get such a notion? First, she and the cases she cites misquote the Fourth Amendment. Here is how the amendment actually reads:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
As you can see, the actual language protects the right of "the people," not just "citizens," to be secure from excessive force. The people includes resident aliens, such as Mr. Patel. And it's hard to conceive that a federal judge is not aware of this. Legal scholars certainly know it. Consider the words of David Cole from the Georgetown University Law Center:
The Constitution does distinguish in some respects between the rights of citizens and noncitizens: the right not to be discriminatorily denied the vote and the right to run for federal elective office are expressly restricted to citizens. All other rights, however, are written without such a limitation. The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment due process and equal protection guarantees extend to all "persons." The rights attaching to criminal trials, including the right to a public trial, a trial by jury, the assistance of a lawyer, and the right to confront adverse witnesses, all apply to "the accused." And both the First Amendment's protections of political and religious freedoms and the Fourth Amendment's protection of privacy and liberty apply to "the people."
In short, contrary to widely held assumptions, the Constitution extends fundamental protections of due process, political freedoms, and equal protection to all persons subject to our laws, without regard to citizenship. These rights inhere in the dignity of the human being, and are especially necessary for people, like non-nationals, who have no voice in the political process.
David Cole knows what he's talking about; Madeline Haikala apparently has no clue.
Perhaps she is jockeying for an appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court if Donald Trump is elected president. She would fit right in with his way of thinking.
Previously in the series:
(1) Here's the flip side of police-brutality cases -- July 13, 2016
(2) Federal judge in Alabama shows how cops tend to get favorable treatment in court -- July 18, 2016
(3) Judge threw out charges based on case that does not support her findings -- July 29, 2016
(4) Record indicates officer lied about three key issues in Patel brutality case -- August 5, 2016
(5) A jury could have found that officer violated Sureshbhai Patel's civil rights -- August 19, 2016