From OJ to Ferguson: Only the law matters

Several years ago I spoke during a career day at my former high school. After giving my spiel to a classroom, the instructor asked me my opinion on the OJ trial. He specifically asked if OJ was guilty or innocent.

I had to think for a moment. I finally had to explain that my professional opinion as a police officer and forensic investigator was irrelevant. The reason was California criminal law and California criminal procedure.

In Illinois, OJ might have been found guilty and the trial would not have been a comedy circus. But, OJ was tried in California.

The same holds true for the Trayvon Martin case. No matter what we think, socially or morally, the case hinged on Florida criminal law and Florida criminal procedure. It did not hinge on our perceptions of  social or moral right or wrong.


Protest Monday night at Chicago Police Headquarters. (PV Bella)

The same holds true with the Ferguson case and the killing of Mike Brown by Officer Darren Wilson.

Missouri Law and Missouri criminal procedure holds sway.

Our opinions based on Illinois law, social or moral issues are irrelevant.

Unlike other countries, the United States does not have one set of standardized criminal laws and criminal procedures covering the whole nation.


Protest Monday night at Chicago Police Headquarters. (PV Bella)

We have fifty one sets of laws and criminal procedures, one for each state and the District of Columbia.

The law and criminal procedure in one state can vary widely from laws and procedures in other states.

From minor to heinous crimes, there are subtle to vast differences between state laws. There are also various differences in criminal procedures and judicial practices.


Protest Monday night at Chicago Police Headquarters. (PV Bella)

This is something the average American does not comprehend.

We only see things through our own state laws and social or moral justice.

Social and moral justice do not count. There is only legal justice. State by state.

This is one of the reasons supposed law enforcement and legal experts in the news media should be ignored. They filter their so-called expertise through knowledge of their state laws and procedures.


Protest Monday night at Chicago Police Headquarters. (PV Bella)

Darren Wilson was not indicted because a grand jury could not make a decision based on Missouri law and criminal procedure.

Laws in other states may have allowed for him to be indicted or charged by a prosecutor.

There may even be some states where he would not face any criminal procedures. It depends on the state laws governing use of deadly force by police and civilians.

The vast majority of Americans base their opinions on false information, media hype, our personal perceptions of right or wrong based on social mores, political tenets, and morality.

Then there is the crowd dynamic, formed by the angry birds enlisting social media lynch mobs. This holds true for both sides of the debate.


Protest Monday night at Chicago Police Headquarters. (PV Bella)

It was way too easy to make this a racial issue. The professional race baiters, whose living and celebrity rely on cases like this do more harm than good for the people they are supposedly helping.

We are not a country of social mores, political tenets, or morals. We are a country of laws. Each state has the right to establish its own criminal laws and criminal procedures. Prosecutors and grand juries must abide and make decisions based upon those laws and procedures. Trials must be held based upon the laws and criminal procedures of each state.

We do not have to like it. We must accept it. That is the American way. That should be the only way.

No matter what we think of the Ferguson decision, we must accept it. It was based on Missouri law. The grand jury was held and guided under the criminal procedure statutes of the state of Missouri.


Protest Monday night at Chicago Police Headquarters. (PV Bella)

An indictment would have been meaningless except for symbolic reasons. We are not a nation of symbolism, but a nation of laws.

An indictment is merely an accusation that must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. Proved within the framework of Missouri law and criminal procedure.

Ferguson does not matter on a national scale. It only matters in Missouri. If the people of Missouri feel strongly enough about the situation, they can demand state laws on police use of force be changed. That is what legislators are supposedly elected for, to represent the will of the people.

On the other hand we should ask some important questions. What kind of training and continual in-service training do suburban police departments get? How are these departments trained and retrained in tactics, self defense, procedures, policies, and other policing issues? How often is training reinforced?


Protest Monday night at Chicago Police Headquarters. (PV Bella)

We can examine the case from a tactical, policy, and procedural standpoint to ensure future citizen and officer safety. It should be carefully examined.

From the little information that came out, it appears Darren Wilson made tactical mistakes, putting himself in jeopardy which led to the death of Mike Brown. Police officers can learn from his mistakes to protect themselves and avoid having to shoot unarmed people.

There is the one thing no policy, procedure, training, or law can control. Police officers are drawn from the human race. They bring with them all of our human foibles. Human error, anger, rage, corruption, prejudices, or just plain stupidity.

All the laws and training in the world cannot overcome that.

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