Thursday, April 27, 2000

WRITER: Kathy R. Pharr, (706) 542-5172, pharr@arches.uga.edu

CONTACT: Ron Carlson, (706) 542-5186


ATHENS, Ga. -- Despite the markedly different scenarios in the murder cases of former Black Panther Jamil Al-Amin and football star Ray Lewis, there is a common legal thread between the two cases, according to noted criminal law expert Ron Carlson of the University of Georgia School of Law: will the pasts of the high-profile defendants come back to haunt them?

"There is a law in Georgia that says prior similar happenings and transactions can be brought up by the prosecution -- past violent acts, for example, where the defendant is now charged with a violent act," says Carlson. "The rule does not depend on there being a conviction in the other unrelated incident, but related only in the sense that it partakes of a showing of a regular course of conduct, like violence. These things come into evidence to show that there is a pattern of conduct, not simply to show that the defendant is a bad person."

Al-Amin was convicted of armed robbery in the 1970s and faced an aggravated assault charge in 1995, which was later dropped. In Lewis' case, a woman claims he assaulted her in a Baltimore nightclub last November, then left the scene in a Lincoln Navigator. The defendants' cases could be severely damaged if the prosecution succeeds in introducing this evidence, says Carlson.

"The jury probably takes a little different view generally in these situations when they find that the individual has been involved in not identical conduct previously, but something that they see as similar," says Carlson.

Admissibility of past conduct may be one of many highly contested motions waged in pre-trial arguments next Monday and Tuesday, what Carlson views as "make or break days for the prosecution." Foremost among the questions to be resolved -- whether Lewis will be tried alone for the Buckhead murder or with the other two defendants.

Lewis' trial is set to begin on Monday, May 15 -- on an incredibly fast track for a murder trial, Carlson notes. Pre-trial maneuvering in the case of Al-Amin is likely to take much longer and, because of the defendant's past involvement in the civil rights movement, will probably generate significant national attention.

Carlson, a nationally recognized expert in evidence, trial practice and criminal procedure, has litigated many cases and has argued twice before the United States Supreme Court. He has written numerous books on trial techniques and provided extensive commentary for the national media in high-profile trials. He will be out of town the week of May 1, but will return on May 8 and plans to be in Athens for the duration of the Lewis trial, which he will be closely following. Should you desire commentary -- or even wish to have Prof. Carlson attend a day of testimony and provide first-hand analysis -- please contact him at: (706) 542-5186.

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