When a Victim is Charged with the Crime

In yet another incident of police violence, discrimination, and racial injustice, 18-year-old Lakeith Smith has been convicted of a felony murder that the court knows he did not commit.

Smith stands to serve 65 years in prison for three consecutive sentences, including the felony murder conviction of his then 16-year-old friend A’Donte Washington, who was fatally shot four times by Alabama police after engaging in a shoot-out.

Smith was offered a plea deal that would have given him 25 years in prison, but he instead opted to go to trial.

But because of Alabama’s Accomplice Law, Smith was — in the eyes of the court — legally responsible for the criminal activities that subsequently led to Washington’s death, and therefore legally responsible for that death, despite never having possessed or fired a weapon during the entirety of the incident.

The Accomplice Law basically says that if you help another person commit a crime, you legally assume responsibility for that person’s actions as well as your own.

So, instead of charging or reprimanding the officer who fired the shots that killed Washington, the state of Alabama found it more convenient to sentence a black man for two men’s crimes instead of just his own.

Mainstream media has focused in on Smith because of his reaction to his sentencing; he reportedly laughed and smiled throughout the process — a reaction that is probably actually pretty understandable when you’re a young black man who has seen the system fail so many of his brothers and sisters and who has finally reached the point where he’s watching the system fail him, too.

Other groups, like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), are looking at the case from a different angle.

The ACLU argues that this case reflects the disproportionate influence prosecutors have over legal cases, and that this disproportionate distribution of power frequently results in an unfair trial.

Which, of course, is a violation of a person’s constitutional rights.

“The job of the prosecutor is to advance justice, yet all too often they have focused on punishment at any cost. This focus on punishment fuels our state’s mass incarceration crisis and disproportionately affects people of color and people with fewer resources.” – ACLU

Hopefully Smith will be able to file for an appeal — his lawyer, Jennifer Holton — seems to have not yet given up the fight, saying:

“The officer shot A’Donte, not Lakeith Smith. Lakeith was a 15-year-old child, scared to death. He did not participate in the act that caused the death of A’Donte. He never shot anybody.”

If only you still had to commit the murder to be convicted of it.


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