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Cortnee Brantley pretrial motion seeks evenhanded justice

Episodes on Law and Order often have this dramatic moment that must make real lawyers roll their eyes.

The bad guy's been arrested, the trial is set, but wait — here comes the defense lawyer, oozing up to prosecutors with an Important Document in hand.

And they recoil from the piece of paper as if he is trying to give them a dead rat.

"What's this?" the prosecutors say, suspicious, shocked, angry — as if pre-trial motions to dismiss, or to keep out certain evidence, or to try the case without a jury, aren't part of the regular road to trial.

Ah, courtroom drama.

But even in the real, workaday world of your local courthouse can come pretrial maneuverings that can make all the difference when it comes to actual justice — messy, imperfect and unsatisfying as that justice may be.

As in, the emotional, tenuous federal case against Cortnee Brantley, soon to be retried.

No question, Brantley was in the thick of it that summer night in 2010 when a Tampa police officer pulled her over because her Toyota didn't have a tag.

After police checked out her boyfriend, Dontae Morris, in the passenger seat, investigators say, Morris opened fire rather than go to jail on what turned out to be a bad warrant.

Officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab were killed, a horrifying scene captured on dashboard video camera. The gunman ran. Brantley drove away.

And there is no law on the books requiring a person to be a decent human being.

Today Morris is in jail, awaiting trial and facing the death penalty. But a lot of people angry at the violence and the pointlessness of what happened that night wanted to see her charged, too.

And she was. The feds came up with an unusual charge of "misprision of a felony," an obscure crime of failing to report that Morris was a felon in possession of a gun and ammunition. It is a charge so odd the jury that heard the case last month sent out several questions about it while deliberating before they deadlocked without a verdict.

It's also notable that U.S. District Judge James Moody himself had previously dismissed the case, saying he didn't see evidence that Brantley had actively concealed anything. An appeals court overturned him.

So, about that recent pre-trial motion.

Brantley's attorney, Grady Irvin, told the judge last week he wanted to try the case next time around with no jury, meaning the judge alone decides. Irvin cited publicity.

Here's another good reason: Separating grief, outrage and emotion, however understandable, from right and wrong. Overreaching for a criminal charge versus the limits of the law.

For a lot of us it would be a test to sit in that jury box and see that video of the two men who died and not want to hold anyone connected responsible.

Judges, on the other hand, we expect to be evenhanded and unemotional.

But, as lawyers like to say, both in real life and on TV, the point is moot.

Federal prosecutors had to agree to a non-jury trial for this to happen, and why would they, since it is their job to convict her?

And so Brantley will face a jury again.

Too bad even hard justice isn't easy, like on TV.

Cortnee Brantley pretrial motion seeks evenhanded justice 08/28/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 29, 2012 6:50am]
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