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Justices: Cop went too far in saying man’s race prevented a fair trial

May 13, 2014

The Indiana Supreme Court had strong words for police officers who intentionally mislead a suspect as to his rights to a fair trial and impartial jury because of his race: The tactic is unacceptable.

“Despite nearly two hundred years of effort by civil rights activists, legislatures, law enforcement, courts, and others, the perception remains that racial discrimination still exists within our justice system: from police treatment to jury selection to jury verdicts and sentences. And the perception is especially common within the African-American community,” Justice Steven David wrote in McLynnerd Bond, Jr. v. State of Indiana, 45S03-1309-CR-597. “It defines reality for many African Americans faced with, serving in, or incarcerated by our criminal courts, and unquestionably has roots in our nation’s tortured history of race relations. That there remains such fear or mistrust of the justice system is why all courts must remain vigilant to eradicate any last vestiges of the days in which a person’s skin color defined their access to justice.”

McLynnerd Bond Jr. was in police custody on outstanding warrants when a Gary Police detective questioned him about a cold case murder. For three hours, Bond denied being involved with the murder. During questioning, the detective implied he wouldn’t get a fair trial because of his race. Bond later admitted committing the murder.

Both the trial court and Court of Appeals denied Bond’s motion to suppress his statement. Judge James Kirsch dissented.

“But with respect to the detective’s statement that Bond might not receive a fair trial because of his race and the likely composition of a prospective jury, our sentiment goes beyond the trial court’s ‘great concern’ and the Court of Appeals majority’s disapproval of it as being  ‘inappropriate.’ This is not a police tactic that we simply do not condone’ because it is deceptive,” David wrote. “Instead, this was an intentional misrepresentation of rights ensconced in the very fabric of our nation’s justice system—the rights to a fair trial and an impartial jury, and the right not to be judged by or for the color of your skin—carried out as leverage to convince a suspect in a criminal case that his only recourse was to forego his claim of innocence and confess. And like Judge Kirsch, we condemn it.”

“This country has waged a long and difficult campaign aimed at ensuring equal access to justice for all its citizens — a campaign whose courtroom aspect has been perhaps marked most visibly by the efforts to ban racial discrimination in jury selection after the enactment of the Fourteenth Amendment. Such a police interrogation technique as we see here flies in the face of those efforts by implying that they were all for naught,” he continued.

“The trial court below concluded that, despite its great concern, ‘there is no caselaw that the Court is aware of that holds that this type of persuasion renders the confession involuntary.’ We clearly understand the trial court’s predicament. But now there is.”
 

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