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Protesters allege bias in police shooting investigation

Peaceful protests have given way to riots and looting in some areas of Jefferson, Missouri, following the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager. The 18-year-old was shot and killed outside a low-income housing complex last week.

At least one witness has stated that the young man had his hands up and was not struggling when he was fatally shot in the head and chest. The officer, on the other hand, has reportedly said that he believed the teen was reaching for a gun.

In the days since the shooting, the community has rallied with increasing intensity to call for the arrest and prosecution of the police officer involved. They have also demanded more information about the circumstances of the shooting.

Many of those involved in the protests have accused local authorities of racial bias in their handling of the case, saying the investigation so far has been lax. While the population of Ferguson is largely black, its police force is primarily white. Underlying racial tensions in the area have escalated in the aftermath of the shooting.

Some have even called for the removal of prosecutor Bob McCulloch, who is in charge of investigating the case and deciding whether to move forward with prosecuting the officer. These protesters object to his involvement in the case because his father, a police officer, was killed in the line of duty when McCulloch was just a boy.  

Whether or not McCulloch is removed from the case, the controversy highlights the important issue of bias in criminal prosecutions of all kinds. If a prosecutor, judge or jury is unable to maintain an objective point of view, it deprives the defendant of his or her right to a fair trial. Especially in a high-profile case such as this, one of the most important things that a criminal defense lawyer can do on behalf of his or her client is to identify these potential biases and prevent them from unfairly influencing the case.

Source: Reuters, "Veteran Missouri prosecutor to weigh fate of cop who shot black teen," Carey Gillam, Aug. 14, 2014

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