Rodney King case returns to court


Supreme Court looks at sentences handed down to policemen

February 20, 1996
Web posted at: 7:45 a.m. EST

From Correspondent Jim Hill

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Nearly four years after the Rodney King case first went to court, it's about to face another day of judgment. The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments Tuesday over whether two of the officers involved in the video-taped beating of motorist King should face more time in prison.


Stacey Koon and Lawrence Powell, now in half-way houses, served 30 months behind bars for their part in the 1991 beating. But federal prosecutors say they should be re- sentenced to longer terms, and a Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.


Now the two men are hoping the Supreme Court will reverse that ruling and keep them out of prison.

"The effect of the Supreme Court ruling for my client will be that he has served his debt to society for his conviction in this case," said Powell's attorney, Ted Kopeny.

The consequences of the prosecution's case prevailing are steep for the two former lawmen -- for Koon, who was the sergeant in charge the night King was beaten, it could mean 40 more months behind bars.

The question is whether federal Judge John Davies properly sentenced Koon and Powell for violating King's civil rights during the arrest. Federal sentencing guidelines called for 70-to-87 months, but the judge chose 30 months.

Davies made his decision based on several factors -- among them, that King contributed to the beating by resisting arrest, and the Koon and Powell suffered the specter of unfairness in being tried twice.


The two were acquitted in state court -- and the worst riots in U.S. history quickly followed. (100K AIFF sound or 100K WAV sound) But once they were in federal court, the two men were convicted.

Federal prosecutors declined to be interviewed for this story, but in their legal brief, they argue that Davies used the wrong reasons when he departed from the sentencing guidelines.

"Because none of the departure grounds ... is permissible," they wrote, "a departure based on all those grounds combined is also impermissible."

But attorneys for the ex-policemen say judges need more discretion -- not less.

"We want judges to perform some judgment functions," said Ted Olsen, Koon's attorney, "and that's what was done in this case." (111K AIFF sound or 111K WAV sound)

When Congress enacted the guidelines in 1984, it gave judges limited authority to depart from them. Now it's up to the high court to decide what the limits are.

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