Murder charges against on-duty police officers — such as the one announced by Orange County, Ca., prosecutors in the July beating death of a mentally ill homeless man — are rarely filed, and successful prosecutions in such cases are almost unheard of in California, reports the Los Angeles Times. Experts said jurors who are naturally sympathetic toward law enforcement are not easily persuaded that an officer has committed the ultimate crime, even after seeing video of the death.
Ira Salzman, who has represented police officers, said defense attorneys in Orange County will have the added benefit of jurors who look favorably toward law enforcement and can make a forceful argument that police had the legal right to use force against a non-complying suspect. Investigators interviewed more than 150 witnesses, analyzed video, and reviewed stacks of documents in an 11-week investigation leading up to the decision to charge Officer Manuel Ramos with second-degree murder. To obtain a murder conviction, prosecutors must convince jurors that Ramos intended to kill the man or acted with a conscious disregard for life. Over two decades, prosecutors have tried a handful of similar murder cases with mixed results.