In today’s political climate, many believe that there are two standards of justice: one for the general public, and one for those who have power, money or influence. In late October, 2012, this accusation was again levied when it was announced that a banker, accused of stabbing a New York City cab driver in New York, late last year will never be brought to trial; just weeks before the trial was set to start, the Connecticut DA announced that all charges had been dropped and will not be pursued at a future date.
While it was a fairly large story last year, this incident has not been in the media recently, as everybody assumed that justice was taking its course and that there were no new developents to report. On December 22nd, 2011, Mohamed Ammar, a NYC taxi driver, accused a Morgan Stanley banker of assaulting him during a fare dispute. William Jennings, a banker employed at Morgan Stanley, has been accused of second-degree assault, theft of services and intimidation by bias (hate crimes) for his alleged assault on Mr. Ammar.
This case represents an example of how the American justice system favors those with money and influence
According to Mr. Ammar, he picked up a heavily inebriated Mr. Jennings in Midtown and was asked to drive him to his mansion in Connecticut. After reaching his home, Mr. Jennings refused to pay the $200 fee for the 40 mile taxi ride and then attempted to stab the cab driver in the upper torso when Mr. Ammar said that he was taking Mr. Jennings to the police station. While attempting to stab Mr. Ammar, Mr. Jennings said “I’m going to kill you. You should go back to your country [Mr. Ammar is an Egyptian American]. Fortunately, Mr. Ammar only sustained minor injuries (lacerations that required 6 stitches) in this incident because he blocked the knife with his hand and managed to disarm his attacker.
Mr. Jennings corroborates a majority of Mr. Ammar’s story, but asserts that he attacked Ammar with his pen-knife because he was afraid that Mr. Ammar was “kidnapping” him back to New York. According to Mr. Jennings, Mr. Ammar locked the doors from the inside and began driving back to NYC, when Jennings “escaped” by stabbing the cab driver and unlocking the door.
In the immediate aftermath of the stabbing, Mr. Jennings was arrested and put on indefinite leave from his job at Morgan Stanley. Jennings was released on $9,500 bail and has been awaiting trial ever since.
On Monday, October 15th, 2012, the Connecticut District Attorney handling the case announced that all charges had been dropped on Mr. Jennings. The stated reason for this development was that Mr. Ammar found the knife used in the assault several weeks after it happened, yet did not turn it in until last May; this delay was due to Mr. Ammar’s fear that he would get into trouble because he touched the knife and left his fingerprints on it. In May 2012, Mr. Ammar turned the knife in to authorities and the case proceeded without incident.
The assertion that the delay in the turning in of the knife caused the charges to be dropped is extremely unusual, considering the fact that this revelation happened last May. As the delay in the turning in of the knife was exposed months ago, any complications stemming from this would have been dealt with in May 2012. The DA’s office continued to work on the case for months after the knife was turned in—work that would be both expensive and wasteful if the delay were truly the reason that the charge would later be dismissed.
There is no legal reason that this case could not have gone to trial in order to be decided in front of a jury: Both Jennings and Ammar agree on most of the facts of the case, as well as that Jennings attacked Ammar with the knife—the only thing in contention is the motive behind the attack. Evidentiary inconsistencies are fairly common in our legal system and are rarely a reason for all charges to be dropped in an otherwise strong case. The defense is able to bring up the delay in the knife turn-in at trial in order to attack the credibility of the accuser. In the face of this dismissal, many, including the lawyers of the victim, wonder why such an unusual and abrupt end to the case would occur.
In their statement, Mr. Ammar’s lawyers stated that “Not only do we feel that it [the dismissal] represents a miscarriage of justice for our client, but the timing of this decision makes it that much more disappointing and alarming.” According to their law office, Mr. Ammar’s lawyers have been in contact with the DA’s office for months and were discussing Mr. Ammars availability for testimony as recently as October 5th, 2012.
While there is no concrete evidence of any alternative reasons why the case would be dropped, this case demands more coverage as well as a better explanation of why the charges have been dropped.
Regardless of the reasons for the dismissal, this case represents an example of how the American justice system favors those with money and influence. Assault cases, like this one, are fairly common in the United States, and it is extremely unusual for a defendant to walk away from charges based upon a single inconsistency in the victim’s case. It is inarguable that the quality representation of Mr. Jennings, as well as his economic means, factored into the decision by the DA’s office to drop the charges; if Mr. Jennings were a working class African American man it is essentially certain that he would now be on trial for his crimes.
In juxtaposition with the Jennings case, we see an example of a similar case resulting in drastically different results that illuminates this disparity. In August 2010, Michael Enright, a film student, stabbed a Muslim cab driver in New York City. Just as in the Jennings case, Enright flagged a cab while drunk and assaulted the driver, inflicting non-lethal but painful wounds while yelling racial attacks and statements of intent to kill their victim. Despite the similar circumstances, Enright has been charged with his crimes and Jennings will never have to step in front of a jury for his alleged crimes. The key difference in these cases is not the crimes committed, but rather that Enright is a working-class student, while Jennings is a rich banker.
In order for justice to be fair, it must be applied with equity, regardless of means, social status and race. Going simply by the information available to the public, there is no legal reason why the Jennings case is unable to go to trial—the jury may or may not convict, but it isn’t up to the DA’s office to abort the legal process before it even reaches this point. We, as a society, must hold those who work in our legal system to the highest standards and ensure that the only thing that factors into legal decisions is the law.