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Context Controls Decision in Jordan Miles Trial

Lucy Skywalker
Wikipedia Commons

Four years after an altercation between three Pittsburgh police officers and CAPA High School student Jordan Miles, eight jurors reached a split verdict  Monday.

The officers were found guilty on the charge of false arrest of Miles, but not guilty in the charge of excessive force.

Miles was awarded monetarily for his injuries, but many are still concerned about the result of the trial.

University of Pittsburgh law professor David Harris explained one of the most confusing elements the verdict -- if Miles was falsely arrested, shouldn’t any force be considered excessive? 

“This does seem to be difficult to understand," Harris admits "I see two possibilities. When you look at the facts, the jury concluded that Mr. Miles was falsely arrested. When we say false arrest, what is required is that the person was arrested without probable cause, without any cause to believe that he was involved in an offense. Not at the beyond a reasonable doubt level, just at the probable cause, a lower level. They believe that there was no probable cause for his arrest….The other possibility is simply a compromised verdict. The police and the plaintiff Mr. Miles both advanced very different but very strong cases. The jury may have felt that the strongest case for Mr. Miles was on false arrest and the strongest case for the police on excessive force.”

Harris explained that once the struggle between the two parties began, under that circumstance--regardless of the current ruling that it was a false arrest--the physical force used by the police officers was not out of line.

Rather, according to the jury, it was necessary to subdue Miles, whom the officers believed to have been armed. When coming to a decision, the context of the entire altercation dominates the retrospective view.

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