The case of officer #Raja captured the nation’s attention as a motorist that was broken down on side of the road was shot and killed by #Raja. We discussed case gavel to gavel on Law & Crime Network. He was found guilty after this segment. Was the conviction fair?

#Raja #policeshooting #policebrutality #law #truecrime

Police officer on trial found guilty of killing an innocent man

March 14th, 2019

Robert Bianchi: Welcome back. I’ve got John Phillips with me out of Jacksonville Florida. I got to read this, I like some of the things, Robert Shapiro called him the best lawyer in America. I don’t know why he didn’t say the whole World, but best lawyer in America is was pretty. Multi-million-dollar verdicts, I believe there’s one up in the four hundred ninety-five million dollars. I’ve got to be honest with you, that is impressive. Represented celebrities, athletes, a board-certified trial lawyer, AV rated Martindale Hub Publication, and for you folks that don’t know what that means, that means that’s the highest level you can get for can proficiency, ethics, and professionalism. He’s lectured at Ted Ex, movies guy, TV commentator, you do it all John welcome to the show.

John Phillips: I need to take you with me when I go places Bob, that was great.

Robert Bianchi: Well, you can take me any time when you get those four hundred and ninety-five million-dollar verdicts, brother. So, listen I mean overall, I was just having a discussion with one of my previous guests there, if you were a defense attorney and you’re representing the guy, you know, I always apply in a police shooting, if you’re dealing with a person who’s a completely innocent person, it’s going to look a much more difficult in front of the jury than somebody who was up to something nefarious. And while he didn’t follow police protocol, and he didn’t have his vest with him, markings and so on, and so forth. Clearly you can understand how somebody could be scared being approached in that manner. But let me just ask you, if it’s to be believed that the cop then sees a gun, is there a defense there for him at all or is that at least the best he can at least try to argue for a defense?

John Philips: The best thing you can do is, kind of try what they’ve done, which is hide behind the badge. We try Federal Civil Rights cases and they’re very difficult because jurors are people too, they want to be protected by police officers, they want to believe the officers are in this for the public good. But we’ve got to regulate the bad ten percent of all professions and Nouman Raja fits within that. He was an aggressive cop, didn’t follow the protocol, and he rightfully faces manslaughter. Probably could have been worse.

Robert Bianchi: Hey, well listen I used to be forty-two years, a 1983 litigator, that’s the Civil Rights statute, an offense of the Civil Rights statute. And since, we only talk about criminal law here, we have our great true crime people here in the Law and Crime Network in the chat room. Let’s take a little bit divergence from that Civil Rights stuff, so you have to show a custom of practice, of policy, of deliberate indifference of the police agency, typically to loop the agency in. Have you seen anything in the facts of this case that would show that either by prior internal affairs record from Beck versus the City of Pittsburgh, to talk about temperamentally unfit officer, things that nature? That would fit within that rule book of a good Civil Rights case here, not Criminal, Civil Rights.

John Phillips: Right, Ben Crump and his team represent Cory’s father, we were actually called by the mother’s side of the family, but the only survivor in this case was the father. And it’s going to be tough against the police force, yeah, the Manel type claim is going to be very difficult, obviously they do have the State law and Federal claims against the officer himself, he did have some level of disciplinary action in his past, that’s something that they’ll want to investigate. But that entire matter has been stayed since 2017, waiting to see what a jury does here.

Robert Bianchi: You know, that’s really funny you should say that because we’re going to be covering a case on the Law and Crime Network, Jason Carter where a Civil case preceded the Criminal charges, and the verdict in that Civil case we start tomorrow. Actually, led law enforcement to charge him criminally. So, it’s an interesting little juxtaposition there, but the Prosecutors is giving some fiery statements in both the closing and the rebuttal. Let’s take another look.

Prosecutor: So, when you listened to that 911 call, think to yourselves, why is he trying to explain to the operator, yeah, you know I told them, I gave them commands, black man wearing all black, dreads, had a silver handgun in his right hand came out. I saw him come out with the handgun. I gave him commands. I identified myself and he turned, pointed the gun at me, and started running. I shot him. He turned, pointed the gun at me, and started running. So, where’s the threat? Then he sustains a gunshot wound to that right side of his chest, and we know that’s the shot that killed him, that blew out his heart. Now you heard expert testimony from both sides, you heard from Doctor Juist and you heard from Doctor Nelson. And Doctor Nelson, why he was so hostile yesterday, I have no idea. But just ask yourselves.

Robert Bianchi: Okay, there we go, part of the Prosecution’s closing arguments, as we know, and we witnessed and gone over this morning, there was a rebuttal argument that was also extremely powerful. So, you know, John Phillips, if you had to be on one side or the other as a litigator, and your goal was to win a case, would you want to take the Prosecution’s case or the Defense case?

John Phillips: I’m a witness guy, and so we on this is case and most cases, would stand with the Prosecution. And you’re showing the best parts, she went about an hour and a half this morning just in the first close and then had a rebuttal and she was passionate all the way from beginning to end. But kind of circled back a couple of times and she did an effective job but the Defense Attorney did a fantastic job. And again, you know, defense based upon the badge, defended not just on the fact that Cory Jones could be a threat to the officers, but an imminent threat to others as well. And he was, you know, there’s the fleeing felon rule, where if a felon if fleeing you can use force. And most say, well he wasn’t committing a felony, he was minding his own business. Well the assault on a police officer which is Raja’s perspective was what justified the fleeing felon rule in his mind. So, you know, they’ve tried to put the badge on him, which we pointed out this morning on Law and Crime Network, you know, the interesting thing about one of the most interesting things about her, the Prosecutor’s closing, is she was wearing a badge. If you notice her little lapel pin, she sent a message to the jury that she is with law enforcement and on the right side of law enforcement, during the whole time of closings, it was a very savvy move.

Robert Bianchi: Yeah, yeah, definitely well listen, true of my staff, we all used to wear those pins. We were very proud of them as Prosecutors. I appreciate your perspective John, we’re going to take a quick break, we’ll be back with more Law and Crime. Please stay tuned.

Robert Bianchi: All right, welcome back that’s the Defense summation, arguing about why there may be inconsistencies in Raja’s report because of tunnel vision and perception distortion. Now, John, I’m not going to lie to you, when I was Prosecutor, we used to go through a course called Top Gun, where it was not a real scenario but they try to make it as real as possible. They would videotape it, and the tunnel vision pieces, I watched as people came out of the closet and pointed a gun to the cop’s head while he was ordering people to do things in commands. And afterwards they were like, what about the guy with the gun to your head, what are you talking about, even when he saw it on video tape could not believe, he’s like, no you guys made that up. There is a lot about that and the Defense lawyer here bootstraps that with saying that even some of the state’s witnesses made minor mistakes in their testimony doesn’t mean they’re necessarily lying. But there is a lot to this tunnel vision and distortion perception. Does it sell to a jury?

John Phillips: I think so, and it’s logical. I’ve taken plenty of officer’s depositions and they do talk about particularly when they truly believe their life is in jeopardy, that you’re focusing on the subject of what could take your life. And so, it does make sense but also officers generally talk about how time slows down during these instances. So, you’ve got to reconcile both the facts with the inconsistent statement, with the inconsistent evidence, where the gun was found and the jury’s got to figure all that out which is going to take some time. I imagine they’re going to go back through Nouman’s recorded interview as well.

Robert Bianchi: Yeah, yeah, I investigated one as the County Prosecutor where the cop’s version of what happened after the incident was so completely different than what the motor vehicle recording and body cameras were picking up. Actually, the motor vehicle recordings and the body cameras completely exonerated the police officer but the fact was you could tell when he was giving his statement, he was kind of making things up. And again, if you saw this video it was not nationally brought across the whole country, it was an almost impossible split second thing that was going on that I really believe a lot of times she was just trying to fill in the blanks because he himself could even figure out what it was he did that caused him to shoot the guy.

John Phillips: Right, and you see sometimes after these incidents where the officers will meet with Union reps, and Attorneys, and State Attorneys, it’s not very often that they wind up subject to criminal proceedings or at least past grand jury stage. This is a very rare case where the police department and the officer on opposite sides, and Prosecutors and the officer on opposite sides, and so they’re going back through and combing through his verbal cues and the inconsistencies. And trying to show that there’s no reasonable doubt that lives there. And the Defense Attorney’s job is the opposite, to show you know, well that’s not quite what you think it was, and inconsistencies don’t, you know, don’t necessarily always just favor our client.

Robert Bianchi: Exactly, in fact he can make the order that it’s overly consistent, that maybe it was overly rehearsed. The Defense did some more on their closing statements, let’s take another look.

Defense Attorney: You could even stretch it to say, well maybe Cory Jones would have been nervous, but you can’t just pull a gun on somebody if you’re nervous. People here get approached by strangers all the time, you can’t just pull guns on them. And that’s the part that gets left out and that is the key to this whole thing. Culpable negligence is consciously doing an act or following a course of conduct that the Defendant must have known, must have known, not even might have known, must have known, or reasonably should have known, should have known, that getting out of his van was likely to cause death or grievous bodily harm. And I say to you, that’s not true. While resisting another’s attempt murder him or any attempt to commit an aggravated assault. And an aggravated assault is pointing a deadly weapon at somebody, that’s an aggravated assault and pointing a deadly weapon at somebody ins aggravated assault. So, I’m not going to go into reading, reading all of it but Nouman Raja was justified if you believe, if you believe that Cory Jones pulled that gun on him and pointed it at him, or even pulled the gun out and pointed it away from him, that would have been enough. But if you believe he pointed the gun at him it’s justified. The use of force is justified, and the State cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it wasn’t justified.

Robert Bianchi: All right John, this is a good opportunity to give viewers, most of them lawyers and law students, and true crime aficionados, especially our great fans in that chat room. A little bit of a wonky look at that this law, it’s pretty much the same, they use these different terminology. But we we’re trying to figure what attempted first degree murder is when you have an actual tad, usually the attempted means if the act was in completed, in most places. But he said there that it was intended, he intended, the defendant intended first degree murder but was prevented from doing it. I’m still a little unclear, if you have clarity for that, let me know because I can move to the defense.

John Phillips: It’s a real tough, tough, claim. When I was listening the whole trial, I was trying to figure out exactly what made it impossible, and I guess it’s because the theory is before, so they basically had to divide the six shots into two volleys, or more. And so, I guess the thought is that the second volley was intended to kill and there was a level of premeditation because there was a pause a time for forethought. But that it wasn’t completed because it was the first set that actually killed him, is the best way I can piece that together, because it would either be murder or not murder. If he intended to the fire shots, but it’s intended murder based upon it not occurring. So, if we don’t understand it, imagine the confusion in the juror room.

Robert Bianchi: Right. And maybe it was explained a little better by the judge but that is definitely an area as a defense lawyer, if you don’t have great facts you want to argue the convolution of the law itself especially on cop case. And I want to go to the defense of self-defense, just so the folks will understand. That’s what they call an affirmative defense, John, and once you assert that because the Defendant doesn’t have to prove anything, or to prove their innocence. The State, he was making a big point has to disprove, essentially, self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt. And what his argument was, was that him getting out of that vehicle was not something that was intended to cause serious bodily injury. However, when the gun was out it was necessary for him to self-defend himself in order to prevent death or serious bodily injury. John, unfortunately, I’d love to get your answer to that. I think I’m generally right about that law. But we got to take a quick break, we’ll be right back. We’re moving quick at this Law and Crime Network, there is a lot going on here. I may have some inside information for you or I’m not completely verifying this but one of our very own best is out there, kind of knows a lot of what’s going on underground, indicated that it may be, it may be that the actual jurors were released, another words, they weren’t just put in a separate place. And that would really bring a very interesting question, in the typical scenario that I’ve been involved with John, alternate jurors stay there because you never know if a juror gets sick, or gets into an accident, and they have to bring another alternate juror in and renew deliberations, again. So, it’s very difficult for me to imagine why the media would not be able to approach a released juror. Know maybe they were released but you may be called to come back, I don’t know but that’s a really sloppy procedure to me. They usually put the alternate jurors in an anti-room in the courthouse, just so they can’t be contacted. What are your thoughts?

John Phillips: Florida State courts different, this is where I make my living and once you get to a point, so it’s twelve in a Capital case, six in just about every other case. So, this was six, with four alternates, once it becomes time to deliberate in Florida, they all turn in to go and they don’t ever come back. They are released. So, you have to deliberate with six, if one doesn’t come back, if one has a sickness, or some other issue, if the sides agree to allow a five-person jury, then so be it. If not it’s a mistrial. That’s Florida law.

Robert Bianchi: That’s ludic to me, I mean first of all as a Defense lawyer you are, in my opinion, in my estimation especially in a case like this, you’re never going to agree, the case never gets better for the prosecution the second time around. And why wouldn’t you just keep, well I guess it’s the State law what I can say. But in the other states, and I’ve been involved in many trials where we’ve lost two or three jurors, especially a very lengthy trial. And they were replaced by the alternates already there ready to go in, the judge gives you an instruction. You are to begin and renew deliberates from anew and that new alternate juror has the benefit of all the deliberations of the entire jury. Let me ask you John, how many cases have resulted in a mistrial because of something like that?

John Phillips: It happens, you know, the question is whether they were going to sequester the jury once they started deliberating in here and I don’t know if they ever got an answer to that. I assume they decided not to but that’s why sometimes on these high profile very lengthy cases, we’ll huddle them all up to the the hotel so that they can’t not return and waste a bunch of time. But it does happen, I’ve had it happen, well we did agree it was a Civil case so less stakes. But we did agree to a jury of five. I’ve had a federal case recently where we had six plus two and they all deliberated, all eight, and we had room for two not to come back, but it’s, you know, every system is different but in Florida they only let the actual jurors deliberate because I guess the theory is you can’t, even if you want to restart deliberations, one person will always be on the outside looking in because they’ll never share all of the deliberations.

Robert Bianchi: Wow. Well very, very, interesting. Okay guys, listen just to give you a quick wrap up here the jury has had their first set of questions, they wanted various items of evidence reproduced to them and more over they went through the verdict question number three, the jury verdict form that asks to define actual cause of, as it relates to the first attempted murder charge, that John and myself just before that, was saying that was relatively confusing for us. So, maybe it is for the jury as well, oh, it’s getting fascinating here at the Law and Crime Network, stick with us, I’ll be here with you till three o’clock. We’re going to take a break, we’ll be right back. Okay, so, we got a lot of activity going on in the courtroom, they’re playing back some video and audio it’s very difficult to hear. You guys have already heard all this stuff before if you’ve been following the case. So, I don’t know, John, every time something like this happens were jury comes back and they’ve asked for a number of pieces of items of evidence, they’re obviously very relevant. The walk-through interview with the police officer that’s on trial, the video that CSI took both the tonight before and the morning. And the audio in the case. These are actually objective pieces of evidence, they’re very solid pieces of evidence, they’re not really subjective to the extent that they don’t have a reason or a motive to lie or have bias. But then that question we get back to actually cause and question number three, and this attempted first degree murder charge. Sure enough we were talking about it John, and sure enough they got a question about the law on it, so when you’re there as a Defense lawyer and a Prosecutor, you’re trying to make sense of, is this good for me or is this bad for me? What are you thinking?

John Phillips: It is nothing worse than that jury question because even if you think you’ve got the case, you never know what a jury is going to do. And the good thing is for the three pieces of evidence, the Prosecutors specifically asked them and charged them with an obligation to listen back and listen to the inconsistencies within Raja’s statement. So, that’s not crazily a surprise but then you kind of have the jury question, which again if we’re stumped about it then I imagine this jury is. You know, what does actual cause mean? And the judge can’t go redefine everything, they just got to try to say, hey look you got the jury instructions, and in Florida they can generally they can take the jury instructions back with them and you have to apply the instructions and figure out the facts.

Robert Bianchi: Yeah, I think that’s really important point to tell our viewers, these jury instructions that the judge gives on the wall which can be very odious, are usually prepared by the Supreme Court committees of lawyers and judges. And the judges are told pretty much, do not go off script with these jury instructions because you could cause reversible error. So, it’s been my experience that the judges say, well maybe this case is a little bit different judge, they do not want to tweak those jury instructions at all. And like you said, a lot of times I’ve laughed, I sat there and listened to the jury instructions for many many years and I say to myself, how the heck are regular folks that have never sat on a jury seat are supposed to understand it, and usually John, they’re defining things by using the word, just what you’re told not to do in school. To have knowledge means to know, and to be with knowledge and to stick with knowledge. So, when you’re getting into attempt and all these different kinds of sophisticated laws and the jury comes back and they want to know what does it mean, that judge is really constrained to explain it because they’re concerned about creating irreversible error, same as Florida?

John Phillips: It is. Imagine if we had to play Monopoly or Chess but we got the instructions at the end of the game and you know, it’s real complex of what we ask jurors to do. But they’ve heard all the facts, now they got to apply facts to the law. And I really think on the Manslaughter charge, once the rehear the statement and some of the other evidence, they’re going to be able to work their way through it. Now, whether they can agree, six nothing is the question. But I’m still stumped on what they do with attempted first-degree murder because you’ve got to divide this act into two parts and it’s a real tough ask.

Robert Bianchi: And we know as Prosecutors, or I can tell you certainly ones when I was a homicide Prosecutor myself, I do not want there to be confusion as to what the law is, I certainly don’t want there to be confusion as to what the facts are because when you get confusion, that’s when we feel at least, that pushing people towards the idea of reasonable doubt. I got two questions for you on top of that, one of which is also that this is a police officer, so police officer cases are difficult to prosecute. And while he may not have followed protocol or whatever, you know, you want to make sure that jury, there’s no confusion when you’re asking to pull the trigger, no pun intended, on a police officer. And my second question is, if you want to comment on that, is it easier for the Prosecution to convict with six as opposed to twelve?

John Phillips: I think it is, you know, getting twelve people to agree on a dinner reservations sometimes, six, we do Criminal Defense, we do my main thing is personal injury, wrongful death and Civil Rights, but we do both sides of it as well. You know, you only see twelve in Florida in capital sex crimes and capital murder, this is obviously neither. So, from that end it should be easier to reach a consensus. Again, this is different than what we saw for instance with Trayvon or Jordan Davis which is the case we handled where you were really focused the Prosecution really focused on murder. Here they were building their case up from manslaughter which I don’t think John’s dad mentioned the word manslaughter in Trayvon, and the George Zimmerman Prosecution.

Robert Bianchi: So, I was going to say, in Florida does the Defense bar often gyrate furiously about the idea that this should be raised to twelve as opposed to six?

John Phillips: Every once in a while, you’ll see a Defense bar motion that seeks to, you know, reestablish the original constitutional intent of a jury of twelve and every time that motions generally denied. You just, we’re a six-person State, you go right up north in Georgia it’s twelve, for just about everything. You know every states a little different.

Robert Bianchi: So, since we agree that it’s easier to hang one of twelve jurors, in other words, it makes the Prosecution job, I should say when I had to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt to twelve people, this is not an easy thing to me. It’s easier to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt to six people. I’m just curious, in being a Civil Rights litigator and all your background, we’re very similar to one another. You go to Georgia and Defendants get a better opportunity, if you will, at trial than in Florida for the same exact crime, somebody maybe convicted, somebody may not, simply on that fact alone. It just seems a little unjust to me in some ways.

John Phillips: It does but, you know, but it also really comes down to the old State rights issues, each State is different and in Federal court, for instance, you’ve got to convince the alternates sometimes. We had a jury deliberate last year, and we had a jury of eight, six plus two, but all eight had to reach a verdict and so, you know, even within Federal court or within our State of Florida there’s a difference there.

Robert Bianchi: And I’ve been asking all of our guests today because some of these jury issues fascinate me and I know they have with the chatters that go on our Law and Crime chat room, do you feel, have you’ve been experiencing in your own career, where alternates were or stay there so I don’t know if you have the same experience, afterwards the verdict comes back and the alternates are in shock. They were believing that the jury was going to go a completely different way, but they came back completely different than the alternates, and I’ve had this experience, over and over, and over again. And I always felt that it came down to the idea that the deliberative process with all of them working together can really affect the individual feelings when they go in there as just individuals, as opposed to a collective unit.

John Phillips: Absolutely, what happens once they start deliberating it becomes, you know, a group think and a group environment and so the ones on the outside weren’t a part of that, but then on the same token the reason these four alternates were chased down was because media wanted some insight into, what were you thinking? Because if they can broadcast what, you know, what that person was thinking it extrapolates that the others might be thinking the same thing. But in your experiences, mines just like it, you can’t always decide the case based on what the alternate thinks, quite the opposite.

Robert Bianchi: Well, I’m going to go out on a limb here, John, and I’m going to ask you first, there’s the high charge, the lesser included offenses, and there’s obviously a not guilty ort a mistrial in the case. What do you thinks happening in this case? Compromise verdict maybe?

John Phillips: No, I think they’re going to convict on Manslaughter, I truly do. I think it was the right charge. I said the same thing in Zimmerman’s case, you know, they’re very different cases but there’s a similar thread. And I think the compromise may be not finding guilty of the attempted first-degree murder. I will say however, if they find evidence that Nouman Raja covered something up or planted the gun or moved the gun, or he was lying, they may give him the whole kit and caboodle but I have a feeling it’s guilty on Manslaughter and not guilty or hung on attempted first degree murder.

Robert Bianchi: John Phillips you’ve done an awesome job. I greatly appreciate it. My time here is done, it’s been a pleasure being with you. We still got more Law and Crime, stay tuned.