The verdict in the Sean Bell case has drawn both praise and criticism from organizations all across the city, and while the jury of public opinion is still out, the legal arguments have all been made.
Criminal attorney Joseph DiBenedetto paid close attention to the Bell trial from its inception. In his estimation, State Supreme Court Justice Arthur Cooperman not only rendered the right decision, but the road ahead may be tough for the victims if they keep pursuing a federal investigation.
DiBenedetto has been involved with several high-profile cases, including the defense in 2003 of John Gotti’s brother, Paul Gotti.
“From my knowledge of the facts and the circumstances, I think it was a just verdict,” DiBenedetto said. He used to share office space with one of the defense attorneys involved in the case, Steven Kartagener.
DiBenedetto believes the most important decision in the course of the trial came when the defense decided to waive its right to a jury trial.
“I think (the bench trial) was a brilliant move on their part. It’s no secret that this is a case that’s driven by public pressure, and a lot of times with the media coverage it makes it very difficult to get an impartial jury,” he said. “Ideally you would like for your clients case to be tried by a jury of his peers, (but) sometimes it becomes unfeasible because of the media scrutiny.”
DiBenedetto agreed with Assistant District Attorney Charles Testagrossa’s assessment of the bench trial, saying that they remove much of the emotion present when lawyers and witnesses interact with a jury.
“The benefit of going before an experienced judge is that the judge has tried numerous cases before, and has the ability to take the evidence for what it’s worth, and not get swayed by passions and prejudices portrayed in the papers.”
As for further litigation, DiBenedetto said he didn’t like the odds that the federal government would intervene after an investigation by the U.S. Attorney.
“I don’t see (a federal case) getting that far. The U.S. Attorneys office has enough cases they’re handling currently,” he said. “The state had their bite at the apple, and I don’t think a federal case would be brought simply because of the public outcry.”
Congressman Gregory Meeks, of Jamaica, disagreed. “(The U.S. Attorney) is going to take a good, serious look at all aspects of it,” he said. “I spoke to other lawyers who have in mind certain codes they believe have been violated. To that effect, there is a possibility (for a federal case.)”
Meeks said that several Congress members, along with the victims in the Bell case, had begun the process of a letter-writing campaign to the U.S. Attorney.
DiBenedetto, of Howard Beach, and Meeks both said that patience would be a key when it came to a federal investigation and possible intervention on that level.
“It’s a careful review. One thing they’ll definitely do is read the trial transcript,” DiBenedetto said. “They’ll do exactly what the D.A.’s office did. These things take time.”