As most of you may be aware of, the verdict of Johannes Mehserle who executed Oscar Grant during a routine questioning surrounding a fight on the BART train. The former officer, who was out on a 3 million dollar bond that was posted by an organization of police officers, was found guilty on charges of involuntary manslaughter. He will be facing sentencing, which can range from 2 years to four years, at a trail date tentatively scheduled for August 6th of this year. Due to the misconception held in the minds of many people, and the dire lack of knowledge surrounding this case, in my opinion, I felt it necessary to explain exactly what the punishment entails.
Firstly, a verdict is not sentencing. Some of the reaction I’ve read through the twitterverse and a few forums is that the guilty verdict was enough. Although the murderer has been found guilty, what we should also consider is the type of crime he has been convicted of, and the legalities concomitant with the sentencing. The crime of involuntary manslaughter basically says that although a person has been killed, the offending person, Mehserle, in this instance, acted without the intention to kill. Regardless of the legal language and loopholes involved in this case, a cursory look at the videotape will show that Oscar Grant had not acted in any way that should have caused the officer to use a taser, let alone a weapon. The defense in the trail used the excuse that Mehserle was reaching for his taser. Once again, I state that police officers are responsible for the lives, and deaths, of the people that pay them, and there should be no accidents. It has also been resolved that Mehserle acted out of anger in restraining Oscar, which culminated in Mehserle handcuffing and shooting Oscar while handcuffed in the back. All of this points to intent on the part of the officer. In the slight chance that the officer of the law might have mistaken a taser for a gun, the case should have been tried as voluntary manslaughter. I am not a criminal lawyer in California, but for what it is worth, I don’t think in a case like this Mehserle, or any officer, should have been tried for anything less than a Murder 2nd.
The need to explain the crime that Mehserle was convicted of is to make this next point. Due to stipulations regarding sentencing, and so that judges have a guideline, each crime has a prescribed maximum sentencing. In this instance, the maximum sentencing is only four years. Due to the overcrowding of prisons, many states have set stipulations on how much time a person can do on a sentence. Let me expound some. Just because a person is sentenced to do four years, does not mean they will have to do the whole four years in prison. That person, in this instance, Mehserle, is in the custody of the state, and can be held on parole for whatever amount of time he doesn’t do in prison. That being understood, California, and most states have a stipulation on nonviolent crimes that limits the time that nonviolent offenders spend incarcerated to 50% of their sentence. So, even if Mehserle is given the maximum punishment, he can only, within state guidelines, be held in prison for two years.
Now, given the best that this system’s justice can offer the people, Mehserle, either an incompetent liar, or just incompetent, can still be free and walking the streets in two years. He can also be released by a parole review board BEFORE the two years are met. The two years are simply a conditional release requirement, this is referred to as a CR date. That means that he can be released anytime after seeing the parole review board. His sentence is not the punishment, it is simply a parameter of his punishment.
My speculation is that even in the case of a maximum sentencing, the four years, Mehserle will be eligible to see the parole board within six months of today. Yes, today. Although he hasn’t been sentenced yet, his time begun the minute the jury stated he was guilty. That gives him a month until his sentencing, and five month thereafter. He most likely will go into protective custody, which means he will be separated from the other prisoners in the general population. We also know that he has an extremely loyal and faithful organization of officers that were willing to place 3 million dollars in the belief that he would not miss a single court date. I would seriously doubt that he will miss one day at the commissary. I’d wager all of my finances that he will have all of the creature comforts available to a prisoner in California’s correctional facilities and more.
In essence, I don’t believe that justice was served one bit today, and in my mind, from my personal experiences, Mehserle will walk away from this situation with no more than a pain from the slap on his wrist.