[Pnews] 11th Circuit Court rules against Jamil Al-Amin (H. Rap Brown) even though prosecutor committed a substantial constitutional error

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Aug 1 15:59:36 EDT 2019


  Court rules against militant formerly known as H. Rap Brown

By Kate Brumback, AP— Jul 31, 2019

A prosecutor violated the constitutional rights of the 1960s black 
militant formerly known as H. Rap Brown during his trial for the killing 
of a sheriff's deputy, but it's unlikely that substantially affected the 
verdict, a federal appeals court found.

The finding came Wednesday in the case of the man now known as Jamil 
Abdullah Al-Amin, who gained prominence more than 50 years ago as a 
Black Panthers leader who famously said, "Violence is as American as 
cherry pie." He later converted to Islam, changed his name and was 
living in Atlanta as an imam in March 2000 when authorities say he shot 
two sheriff's deputies, killing one.

Al-Amin alleges that a prosecutor at his trial violated his 
constitutional rights and the court failed to take adequate steps to fix 
that violation. A federal judge rejected his challenge and the 11th U.S. 
Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that ruling.

In 2002, Al-Amin, 75, was convicted of murdering Fulton County sheriff's 
Deputy Ricky Kinchen and wounding Kinchen's partner, Deputy Aldranon 
English. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Al-Amin's lawyers argued a prosecutor violated his right not to testify 
by directly questioning him during closing arguments in a sort of mock 
cross-examination. They also said the trial judge should have let his 
lawyers question an FBI agent who was present at his arrest about 
another incident involving the agent.

As a radical activist in the 1960s, Al-Amin was a leader in the Student 
Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He called violence a necessary tool 
for blacks.

During a five-year sentence for his role in a robbery that ended in a 
shootout with New York police, he converted to the Dar-ul Islam movement 
and changed his name.

He moved to Atlanta in the 1970s and became the leader of one of the 
nation's largest black Muslim groups, the National Ummah.

Authorities say Al-Amin shot Kinchen and English on March 16, 2000, when 
they went to the Atlanta neighborhood where Al-Amin lived, was an imam 
and owned a grocery store to serve a warrant for failure to appear in 
court on charges of driving a stolen car and impersonating a police 
officer during a traffic stop the previous year.

He was arrested four days later in White Hall, Alabama, a small town 
where he had helped develop a Muslim community.

During closing arguments at his trial, the prosecutor displayed a chart 
titled "Questions for the defendant" and asked "pointed questions" meant 
to focus the jury's attention on the fact that Al-Amin didn't testify, 
his lawyers argue.

The defense objected, and the trial judge gave the jury instructions 
meant to neutralize any harm caused by the prosecutor's statements.

U.S. District Court Judge Amy Totenberg found in September 2017 that the 
prosecutor violated Al-Amin's constitutional right not to testify and 
that the trial court's attempt to mitigate the prosecutor's violation 
was insufficient and may have actually been harmful.

But she found there was "weighty" evidence against him, and she rejected 
his challenge to his imprisonment. Totenberg added that she was 
constrained by the "onerous standards" imposed by the law and Supreme 
Court case law.

A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit agreed with Totenberg's findings 
that the prosecutor committed a substantial constitutional error and 
that the court's attempt to lessen the harm was ineffective.

But the panel also agreed it's unlikely that that substantially affected 
the jury's verdict.

"We regret that we cannot provide Mr. Al-Amin relief in the face of the 
prosecutorial misconduct that occurred at his trial. A prosecutor's duty 
in a criminal proceeding is not to secure a conviction by any means, but 
to ensure that justice will prevail," Circuit Judge Charles Wilson wrote 
in the opinion. "The prosecutor at Al-Amin's trial failed to live up to 
that duty."

The panel also agreed with Totenberg that the trial court acted within 
its rights in refusing to let Al-Amin's attorneys cross examine an FBI 
agent about an incident earlier in his career because he had been 
investigated and cleared in that incident.

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