Saturday, June 20, 2015

Judge Cannot Repress a Motor City Original

Attorney Marvin Barnett
In the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice, attorney Marvin Barnett is a fixture. He's been defending Detroiters accused of felonies in that building for three decades.

No stranger to federal court, Mr. Barnett was involved in a gun case in Ann Arbor a while ago. During the case, Barnett began to crank-up his usual righteous cross-examination when U.S. District Judge John O'Meara stated:
This dramatic, high voice, moving around, touching your client. It isn’t going to happen. You went into a whole series of pretty dramatic questions about what happened, who opened the door, who pulled it open. It had nothing, nothing to do with what this jury has got to decide and you’re getting back into some other areas. Now you are a very intelligent man and you know what I’m talking about and you know you’re going to be sanctioned if this continues so don’t let it continue.
Judge O'Meara, in front the jury, also characterized Barnett's requested jury instructions as, "a little bit of flim-flam", before telling the Motor City lawyer to "shut-up" during his closing argument. The judge also scolded Barnett that he was not listening to the court, and that Barnett was wasting the jury's time.

Perhaps the court's crowning insult to Barnett, however, was when Judge O'Meara belittled his theory of the case -that the officer involved had a reason to lie- as being outright "over-the-top mendacity".  In addition, when the jury sent out a note stating they were "hung" on the weapons charge because of confusion about the meaning of "reasonable doubt", the court instructed them to continue deliberating and provided this improvised instruction:
Reasonable doubt is something short of absolute certainty by some measurable distance. It means that if you have reasonable doubt, that there is no way a reasonable person can come to the conclusion that you need them to come to, to in this case find the Defendant guilty of two charges. 
While the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals characterized O'Meara as "fair-minded", they found his series of belittling remarks prejudiced the jury against the defendant and reversed his conviction last week, remanding the case to the district court for a new trial. In doing so, the Sixth Circuit also concluded that the lower court improperly improvised the definition of "reasonable doubt" following the jury's request to have that term better explained.

So now Barnett's client gets a second chance at acquittal. Most prosecutors would agree that giving Marvin Barnett a second chance is something to avoid.

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