A High Price for Trust
A hallmark of civilization is that we turn to courts to settle disputes. When a people, or a discrete minority, distrust the law, including officers, government and court officials, we pay a high price.
An extreme example: A recent PBS program discussed the metastasis of the ISIS organization in Iraq. Experts cite the abuse of the Sunni minority by Iraqi government officials as the inspiration for disgruntled former military officers to join the surprisingly successful ISIS forces.
Recent officer-involved shootings remind us to stay engaged in our own governance. If Ferguson teaches anything, it's that in a free country, when officers take the life of a civilian, it's always of utmost importance.
Many—if not all—of the recent officer-involved shootings deserve deeper consideration, including the recent decision to dismiss the case of the shooting of the unarmed Danielle Willard.
Apparently, the attorney general decided not to appeal the extraordinary lower-court decision to dismiss the case, and offered no analysis for the decision. Interested citizens should ask for more.
Criminal procedure is the series of formal stages moving a case from accusation to resolution. The Willard case was dismissed at the preliminary-hearing stage. A preliminary hearing is an important protection for the accused against the power of the government. Typically held within weeks of charges being filed, a preliminary hearing provides the citizenry with an early opportunity to hear the charges and the evidence supporting them in a public forum before a neutral judge.
The prosecutor must show that there is "probable cause" to believe A. that a crime occurred and B. that a particular defendant committed the crime. The standard is practical, and presents these questions: Prosecutor, what law is violated, and why do you think this person did it?
Usually it's B—whether the accused committed the crime—that's at issue at a preliminary hearing, but there's no doubt that the officer shot Willard.
Turning to A, the prosecutor must show the law was violated; in most circumstances, this isn't disputed. In the Willard shooting, however, the judge apparently ruled otherwise.
The judge generally will not weigh the evidence before her. The reason for this rule is practical. The case is early, and a jury will have an opportunity to determine culpability at a trial after considering all the evidence.
The judge considers the evidence in the light most favorable to the government. This means if any witness or evidence shows a crime occurred, even if the evidence is doubtful or the witness unpersuasive, the judge accepts the evidence as sufficient to bind the case over for trial.
A judge then applies what is known—the facts and the evidence—to the law.
Without attending the hearing or reviewing transcripts, discussion of the evidence must be limited to the written decision. Unfortunately, in my view, the decision doesn't clearly discuss the procedure, law or facts.
It's important that we understand why a judge concluded that no crime occurred when county prosecutors offered substantial evidence otherwise.
Salt Lake City
Correction: In "No Country for Bikers" [Nov. 27, City Weekly], an incorrect title was used for Eric Stine, who is the education coordinator for the state of Utah ABATE chapter.