So it appears that police chose not to charge Chris Brown with felony assault, opting instead for a misdemeanor. Based on my experience, having practiced as a prosecutor and defense lawyer in the criminal arena for over twenty years, I’m confident that the reason had nothing to do with his celebrity. Instead, cops investigated the case and determined that the injury sustained to the alleged victim’s nose wasn’t severe enough to warrant a felony charge. Great. Good work. That’s fair.
What’s not fair is that there are countless cases, wherein cops on a daily basis, all over this great land, are overcharging defendants. I personally see it every day. Often, it’s done intentionally because cops know the bond amount and penalties will be much higher and/or they just don’t like the defendant. Other times, it’s out of ignorance. Also, there are even times when the law permits it. One of those times that stands out to me concerned a case that I was involved in recently.
I was defending an African American teen who was walking down the street when he was confronted by three white males who pulled up to him and began yelling. Among other awful things, they called him a “f*ckin n*gger.” He reacted by reaching into the passenger’s side window and striking the face of one of the detestable occupants. The passengers drove off and immediately contacted law enforcement. Cops responded and questioned my client. He admitted striking the passenger. He also described the hideous things the passengers were yelling just prior to the punch. The passengers called my client a liar, vehemently denying uttering any racist words. The officers arrested my client. What was even more outrageous was what they chose to charge him with. Instead of charging him with misdemeanor battery for the simple retaliatory strike to the passenger’s face, the officers charged him with burglary with a battery, a felony punishable by a maximum sentence of life in prison. The cop’s rationale was that my client committed the burglary because at least a portion of his body entered the car without permission and while inside, he committed an offense, a battery. Some officers faced with similar facts, may have chosen to use their discretion and charge the defendant with two separate counts, a burglary and a separate count of battery. By charging the two crimes separately, the maximum penalty would be up to six years in prison as opposed to life. Some cops would have gotten the truth out of the racists and chose not to charge my client at all.
The worst part of the cops charging my client’s act as a burglary with a battery is that life felonies are non-bondable. Yes, I said that right. For my client’s retaliatory response to hearing some of the most offensive words on the face of the planet, he was stripped of his liberty and held without bond. I wasn’t hired on the case until after he was ultimately given a bond and after spending several weeks in jail.
After challenging the case for quite some time, I was able to get the charges dropped. However, in reflecting on this case, I can’t avoid focusing on the way that the officer charged my client. With the swipe of his pen, the officer placed my client into an immediate hell, preventing him from getting out of jail for quite some time. When this defendant appeared in court for his initial appearance, the judge had no discretion and had to order him held with no bond, solely based on what was charged. The law doesn’t permit judges at that point to look to the reasons why someone acted the way they did. It’s fairly clear cut. A life felony equals no bond. A robot judge could do it.
Officers routinely argue that it’s not their fault. They maintain that it’s the legislature’s fault. After all, they argue, it’s the politicians who passed laws that treat a smack to the face while the victim is sitting in a car the same as if someone breaks into a house in the middle of the night and physically harms the occupants. Both are burglaries with batteries (life felonies) and both get no bond at the first appearance.
The only positive to the latest Chris Brown arrest is that it prompted me to think about how officers charge defendants and how random it can be in certain instances. How someone is charged, as described above, can have a pronounced impact on that person’s life and liberty.