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ACLU Takes Position at Odds With L.A. Board : Courts: National group issues policy opposing double jeopardy. Local group says the issue is not relevant in federal civil rights trial over Rodney King beating.

April 05, 1993|RENEE TAWA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Amid the volatile atmosphere surrounding Rodney G. King's civil rights trial, the national ACLU board announced a policy Sunday that says, in effect, that the case should not have gone to federal court after the not guilty verdicts of four Los Angeles police officers on state charges--a position that conflicts with the local ACLU's stand.

The national board of the American Civil Liberties Union affirmed its position opposing double jeopardy, or being tried twice for the same alleged offense. The national board's position opposes all subsequent prosecutions of defendants after they have been acquitted on charges arising from the same event.

The ACLU national board's decision prompted a swift reaction from its Southern California affiliate, which supported the federal civil rights prosecution.

"This support is based on our belief that the Simi Valley proceedings did not resolve the issues of the criminal responsibility of these officers under federal civil rights law and that fair resolution of these issues was essential for this community," the local ACLU chapter said.

On April 29, a Simi Valley jury found the police officers not guilty of most charges in the videotaped beating of King. After the verdicts, defense attorneys moved to dismiss the federal case on the grounds that the new civil rights charges violated the officers' rights to be protected from double jeopardy.

U.S. District Judge John G. Davies denied the defense motion and refused to dismiss the case.

State and federal governments generally are considered sovereign entities, and double jeopardy rules do not usually prevent the federal government from prosecuting a case once state proceedings have concluded, said Paul Hoffman, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California.

Other observers have noted that the federal charges against the officers are different, even though they are related to the King beating.

The local ACLU called for a federal trial immediately after the verdict in the state's case on April 29. After the verdicts, the national ACLU suspended its position on double jeopardy so it would not be in conflict with the local ACLU. The issue was brought up again at the board's meeting over the weekend in New York.

National ACLU representatives could not be reached for comment. But Allan Parachini, spokesman for the ACLU of Southern California, said the national board's agenda was set months in advance at a time when officials could not anticipate the timing to coincide with the imminent conclusion of the four officers' trial on federal civil rights charges.

"We don't want the ACLU's internal positions on double jeopardy to detract or interfere with the outcome of this trial," Parachini said. "We're interested in working with the community to come to grips with whatever this verdict is, as much as anyone else. The specter of someone--a cop's attorney for instance--saying, well, this ACLU board says this is double jeopardy, that to us, in terms of understatement, is not optimal. We really are compelled to be very emphatic about our position."

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