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Criminal Justice: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of 2021


Yesterday, I offered my top five civil justice outcomes for 2021. Today, on this first day of 2022, I offer my top criminal justice cases and/or outcomes:


Ugly: The Michigan School Shooting

While there have been no trials or verdicts in this case yet, the November 30, 2021 mass school shooting in Oxford, MI stands out as the most terrible criminal justice incident of 2021. Thirty shots were fired, four kids were killed, and seven others (six kids and a teacher) were wounded. I am a Michigan resident. I once wrote a novel, Betrayal High, about a fictional Michigan school shooting. To see a similar shooting play out in real time is positively chilling.


What makes this case even more unique and interesting, though, is the behavior of the shooter’s parents. While I don’t like people being tried and convicted in the press, it would appear from press reports that the parents bought the kid the gun, allowing him free access to it, and resisted his removal from school only a few hours before the shooting. It would seem they were almost co-conspirators who knew what he might do (“Ethan, don’t do it”). In Michigan, involuntary manslaughter applies when someone contributes to a situation where there is a high chance of death or harm. The parents didn’t help themselves when they disappeared for a few days and were apprehended by law enforcement officials in a warehouse in Detroit. We shall see.


Bad: The Kyle Rittenhouse Not Guilty Verdict

If there is a Wisconsin law that supports a 17-year-old prowling the streets in a foreign state carrying an AR-15 and shooting those who dared to challenge him, that law must be changed. I understand what self-defense is. I understand “stand your ground.” But when a 17-year-old kid grabs an automatic weapon during a civil disturbance, crosses state lines looking for trouble, and shoots and kills two men, even in self-defense, that kid is culpable. His post-verdict behavior as the darling of the right and his threats to sue the media demonstrate his character and immaturity. Whether guilty or not, his encounters with citizens left two dead and another seriously wounded, and none of it would have happened if he had just stayed home and let the real police handle the uprising.


Good: The Derek Chauvin Murder Trial Verdict

Possibly the year’s most anticipated trial, the veteran Minnesota cop was convicted of second and third-degree murder as well as second-degree manslaughter for kneeling the life out of George Floyd for an agonizing 9 minutes and 29 seconds. Floyd’s crime? He was accused of passing a $20 counterfeit bill. While bystanders begged Chauvin to get his knee off Floyd’s neck, the arrogant murderer refused and continued to kneel until Floyd stopped breathing. Police officers are supposed to protect and serve. When a citizen commits a crime, a cop may use force necessary to effect an arrest. Chauvin acted as cop, prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner—while his fellow officers, with depraved indifference, stood around and watched. Hopefully, the others get convicted too. Chauvin will serve a minimum of 20 years in prison and Minnesota citizens, especially people of color, will be safer for it.


Good: Ghislaine Maxwell Guilty Verdict

This is one of those “truth to power” verdicts that I like to write about in my Zachary Blake legal thriller series. Maxwell, Jeffrey Epstein’s protégé, was accused of conspiring with Epstein to lure underaged girls into sexual relationships with Epstein, who sexually abused them from 1994 to 2004. Maxwell, in a high-profile trial, was found guilty of five of six federal charges: sex trafficking of a minor, transporting a minor with intent to engage in sexual activity, and a bunch of conspiracy charges (conspiring with Jeffrey Epstein) to complete these same acts. She was acquitted on one charge: enticing a minor to travel for purposed of engaging in illegal sex acts. I don’t know how you can sex traffic a minor without enticing that minor, but the jury said you can. Apparently, this charge applied to only one of four female victims, a young woman referred to by the pseudonym of “Jane.”


Maxwell, now 60, faces up to 65 years in prison. It will be interesting to see what Judge Alison Nathan does with regard to sentencing.


Good (but tragic all the way around): The Kim Potter Manslaughter Verdict

Kim Potter, a former Minnesota police officer (what’s going on in Minnesota?!), was convicted of first and second degree manslaughter in the death of young Daunte Wright. Potter claimed she only meant to taser Mr. Wright, but accidently mistook her gun for her taser. Wright was pulled over, after the George Floyd incident, for an expired tag and an illegal air freshener. Wright tried to flee the scene when officers learned he had an outstanding warrant pending against him. The defense argued that the mistake (if that’s what it was) did not rise to the level of a crime. Potter’s remorseful testimony (“I’m so sorry ... I didn’t want to hurt anybody”) in contrast to the arrogant and defiant Chauvin in the Floyd case, made this a more difficult outcome to swallow. Furthermore, under Minnesota law, deadly force is justified if an officer in partly inside the vehicle as the suspect attempts to drive away. Potter’s superior officer testified that she did not violate “policy, procedure, law.”


Wright was only 20 years old, the father of a young child, guilty of only non-moving minor traffic offenses, and unarmed at the time of the shooting. Potter faces 11 years in prison. Tough case which could have gone either way.


Good: The Jussie Smollett Phony Hate Crime Verdict

I once wrote that Smollett was being tried and convicted in the press. He alleged that two men targeted and abducted him, then wrapped a rope around his neck, shouting ‘this is ‘MAGA’ (Make America Great Again) country.’ After further investigation, the Chicago Police determined Smollett staged a hoax to bolster his career and paid his ‘attackers’ to carry out the phony crime. The jury has spoken; Smollett is guilty—he faces up to three years in prison, but authorities suggest that he will get probation.


Bad: Mississippi v. Jones

The United States Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision, found that judges do not have to show that a young person is “permanently incorrigible” before sentencing him or her to life in prison. I don’t know about you, but the idea that a youth is imprisoned for life for crimes committed as a child does not sit well with me. At the same time, victims of serious crime are entitled to justice and our citizens are entitled to safety. I believe an appropriate balancing test must be made in each case and this decision makes in easier for overzealous prosecutors to imprison kids.


Good-Bad: Caniglia v. Strom

This case involved a domestic dispute involving a firearm. The gun involved was confiscated by police while the suspect was not home. The entry and seizure violated Caniglia’s 4th Amendment rights. While I agree with the ruling and support the right of privacy under the 4th Amendment, the idea that guns are involved in domestic disputes is scary for neighborhoods. The police are at fault here—they should have taken appropriate constitutional measures before entering the home. How about a warrant?


Happy New Year Everyone!

Mark M. Bello is an attorney and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Legal Thriller Series, ripped-from-the headlines, realistic fiction that speak truth to power and champion the rights of citizens in our justice system. These novels, dedicated to the social justice movement, are not only enjoyable, they educate, spark discussion and inspire readers to action. For more information, please visit www.markmbello.com. Mark also hosts the Justice Counts podcast with Not Fake News editor & publisher Bob Gatty, presenting bi-weekly interviews focused on social justice.


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2 Comments


I love your blogs!

Every time I think of George Floyd tears come to my eyes as he had to suffer terribly. Derek Chauvin is a monster and since he did that in front of people I wonder what he does behind closed doors!

Ghislaine Maxwell-there are no words!


I had never seen a taser and had to search online for pictures and I see some resemble guns. Thank you for your perspective.


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Mark M. Bello
Mark M. Bello
Jan 18, 2022
Replying to

Thank you, Deb. I appreciate the kind words.

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