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Noah Pines of Ross & Pines, Atlanta. (Courtesy photo) Noah Pines of Ross & Pines. (Courtesy photo)

When law enforcement kills a member of our community, long before you learn the officer’s name, you often learn that the victim was “no angel.” Whether it’s Ahmaud Arbery or George Floyd or Eric Garner, always, no angel. And even when somebody is pretty angelic, like Philando Castile or Botham Jean, there’s a rush to blame them for smoking marijuana or watching movies in the dark. And that attitude is reflected in the way our criminal justice system would treat these who survive violent confrontations from police. Following that survival, there is prosecution. And as part of its case, the state is going to use rule 404(b) to tell the jury every nefarious thing the defendant has ever done. In theory, such evidence is not readily admissible, because it effectively destroys the presumption of innocence, assuring jurors that, even if the defendant didn’t commit this crime, a conviction works no great injustice because he is no angel. But in reality, admission is close to automatic in most courts.

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