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Copyright (c) 1996 University of California, Hastings College of Law
Hastings Law Journal

ARTICLE: Unscheduled Departures: The Circumvention of Just Sentencing for Police Brutality

March, 1996

47 Hastings L.J. 677


Alexa P. Freeman *


Consider these three cases:

Case One: Four police officers arrest a man who led them on a high-speed car chase after breaking a church window. They place him in a holding cell and begin to beat him. During the beating, he suffers a heart attack. They break his nose, ribs and teeth. When they are done, he is in a coma, with irreversible brain damage. Convicted of assault, three officers are sentenced to weekends in jail for between thirty and forty-five weekends. The fourth officer receives a suspended sentence and 180 hours of community service. 1 The lenient sentences cause an outcry from the public, but the judge states they have "already been punished and stigmatized enormously by the unprecedented publicity surrounding this case.'" 2

Case Two: A police officer arrests the driver of a car and his passenger after a high-speed chase. The passenger is pinned to the ground and handcuffed, then the officer stomps on his body, kicks him, jams a shotgun barrel to his forehead and slams his face against the patrol car. The passenger's injuries include a laceration requiring sutures, a broken nose, contusions to the eyes, several chipped teeth and a contusion on the forehead. 3 The officer pleads guilty to a misdemeanor civil rights charge of using excessive force and is fined $ 500. 4 The judge concludes that the officer's act was aberrant, that he has suffered enough and that he would lose his job if sentenced to probation. 5
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