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Friday Roundup

I had four criminal pretrials and a hearing yesterday.  That's not my normal workload; on Wednesday I had nothing in court, which allowed me to get a brief done.  That's how I like to work things:  if I have to go over to the court, I'd just as soon waste my time on five cases as on one.

Which is what I pretty much what I did.  Three pretrials got continued to another date, by which time I'll have discovery, and maybe we can work something out, or not.  The hearing, on a motion to suppress, was obviated by the State's willingness to offer me a misdemeanor.  This is how bad the search was:  in front of one of the most prosecution-friendly judges on the bench, and in the face of the insistence by the police officers involved that the defendant plead to a felony, they offered me a misdemeanor. 

But I did get one case resolved:  I got another misdemeanor plea on a drug trafficking case.  Twenty bucks worth of marijuana.  That leaves me with two other cases involving a $20 dollar sale of marijuana. 

One thing my clients can be thankful for:  they're still alive.

Trevon Cole wasn't so lucky.

Trevon was targeted by the Las Vegas police as a "major drug dealer."  It was the wrong Trevon Cole; the one the police were looking for had a different middle name, was seven years older, three inches shorter, and a hundred pounds lighter.  And even his "lengthy criminal history of narcotics sales, trafficking, and possession charges" amounted to three misdemeanor marijuana possession arrests.  Still, that was more than the criminal record of the real Trevon Cole, the one who wound up dead; he had an unauthorized use of a motor vehicle as a teenager.

The police nonetheless managed to set up three controlled buys with Cole, for a total of 1.8 ounces of marijuana.  They wanted to make a bigger purchase -- $400 worth -- but "major drug dealer" Trevon Cole had to back out, because he didn't have that much stuff.

On the night of June 11, the police narcotics squad raided Cole's house.   The raid didn't go well.  The front door required four hits from the battering ram before it opened, longer than normal.  The police rushed in, and Det. Bryan Yant kicked open the bathroom door.  Cole was kneeling in front of the toilet, and despite Yant's commands to show his hands, Cole rose, turned toward Yant, and thrust his hand toward Yant as if he had a gun.  Yant shot and killed him.  "Unfortunately he made an aggressive act toward me.  He made me do my job," said Yant.

That's Yant's version, anyway, but there's nothing else to support it.  The position of Cole's body, and the downward angle of the bullet through his cheek to his neck, demonstrated that Yant's story was physically impossible; the medical examiner and the homicide detective who investigated the shooting concluded that Cole had been bent over the toilet when he was shot.  A more likely explanation for the shooting, from the accounts of the other police officers who heard the door kick and gun shot virtually simultaneously, is that Yant had accidentally discharged his gun when he kicked down the door.  Of the six police officers present, five didn't hear Bryant say anything to Cole before the shot was fired, and the sixth didn't hear Bryant say anything to Cole about his hands.

In any event, the whole thing went in front of a coroner's inquest earlier this week.  If there was a betting line in Vegas on the outcome, it would have heavily favored Byrant:  of approximately 200 coroner's inquests in the city into officer-involved killings since 1976, only one has resulted in a finding against the officer.  That one was for criminal negligence, and was subsequently overturned.  Det. Bryant himself was no stranger to the process:  in an incident a few years ago, he was absolved of killing a man whom he claimed was threatening him with a gun.  The coroner's jury took only 30 minutes to acquit him, despite the fact that the gun was found 35 feet away from the victim's body.  In Cole's death, the inquest took a whole 90 minutes before concluding that the killing was justified.

California is electing a governor and a US Senator, but a lot of attention on the election results from that state this November will focus on the fate of Proposition 19, which would legalize marijuana.  It's been leading fairly consistently in the polls -- a SurveyUSA poll last week had it up 50-40 -- but you don't know how the undecideds are going to break, and even soft support for it might be swayed by things like the op-ed by the six current and previous drug czars in the LA Times.

I don't buy into a lot of the arguments made by the proponents of legalization.  I think it's unquestionably going to lead to greater use.  There are a lot of people who don't use drugs simply because they're illegal, and making it legal is going to eliminate that disincentive.  I don't think it's going to bring in much additional revenue.

But Trevon Cole's finacee was present at the time of the raid.  She was 8½ months pregnant at the time.  I'm pretty sure I know how she'd vote.


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