© Josh Sager – October 2012
The Facts of the Case
In the modern political climate, many Americans have claimed that there appear to be two standards of justice: one for the general public and one for those who have power, money or influence. In late October, this accusation was again levied when it was announced that the banker who was accused of stabbing a cab driver in New York last year will never be brought to trial; just weeks before the trial was set to start, the District Attorney’s office announced that all charges had been dropped and will not be pursued at a future date.
On December 22nd, 2011, Mohamed Ammar, a NYC taxi driver was allegedly stabbed by a Morgan Stanley Banker over a fare dispute. William Jennings, who, at the time, was a banker with 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.
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 refusing to pay the $200 fee for the 40 mile taxi ride and then attempted to stab the cab driver in the upper torso when he said that he was taking Mr. Jennings to the police station. During this assault, Mr. Jennings not only attacked Mr. Ammar but also 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, the Connecticut District Attorney handling the case announced that all charges had been dropped on Mr. Jennings. The stated reason for this development was the fact that Mr. Ammar found the knife used in the assault several weeks after it happened, yet didn’t 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 got 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 dropping of charges is extremely odd, 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 then. 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 why they would later dismiss the charges.
There is no reason why this case could not have gone to trial and have been decided in front of the court. Both Jennings and Ammar agree on most of the facts of the case, as well as the fact 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.
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 simply 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 poor black 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 poor student, while Jennings is rich banker.
In order for justice to be fair, it must be applied equally, regardless of means and social status. Going simply by the information given to the public, there is no reason why the Jennings case should not 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.
In my opinion, this case represents a terrible miscarriage of justice and an example of how those with power are now able to buy their away out of legal trouble. If Jennings were poor or a racial minority, rather than a rich, white banker, it is inconceivable that he would be free today.
While I have no evidence that Jennings bribed or otherwise coerced the district attorney’s office in order to drop charges, I think that the culture of our justice system did this for him—our legal system has internalized the idea that those with power are not to be held to the standards of the law, regardless of who they hurt. Just as after the financial crash, there were no bankers arrested, after a banker stabs a poor person, there is no expectation that they will be held accountable for their crimes.
The District Attorney who decided to drop this case should be deeply ashamed and should lose his job. Letting somebody get away with attempted murder, merely because he is a wealthy banker is simply wrong and a perversion of our justice system. At best, the DA was afraid of losing a case (and damaging his win/loss ratio) due to the deep pockets of the accused and at worst he was swayed by Jennings’s money.
The dismissal of this case is further highlighted by Jennings’s admission that the thing that he was defending himself against was the inconvenience of being “kidnapped” back to New York. By his own admission, he stabbed the cab driver because he didn’t want to be brought back to the city when he was so close to home—never mind a dismissal of charges, this justification doesn’t even reach the standard of a “self-defense” legal defense. Jennings had no reason to assume that his life was in danger, only under threat of inconvenience, thus he had no legal right to act with lethal force. Put plainly, inconvenience is no justification for attempting to stab somebody who you are trying to defraud.
Beyond the simple fact that Jennings’s assault of Ammar is outside the realm of acceptable behavior, it is also important to look at his crime in perspective: Jenning is a multi-millionaire banker, who attempted to stab a cab driver in the throat for asking for $200 in cab fare. It isn’t as though Jennigns was poor and unable to spare the money for the trip (not that that would make the assault acceptable), but that he was so greedy that he was unwilling to part with even a pittance. Jennings is a perfect poster-child for the entitlement and greed that some bankers have developed in order to justify cheating and hurting the average citizen for e personal profit—the only difference with this case is that the banker literally stabbed a person for money, rather than simply figuratively stabbing them in the back.
The repulsive conduct of Mr. Jennings, when combined with the cowardice and timidity of the District Attorney’s office, illustrates a large problem within our society. Many who have power see themselves as entitled to be above the law, and the law has begun to comply with their wishes. Those who have money rarely risk going to jail when they rob the poor or, apparently, even when they try to kill them. It is truly perverse that the American justice system has been so perverted that even such a simple, yet egregious case can fall apart even before a trial. If it were the Egyptian-American cabbie who stabbed the rich, white banker, is anybody deluded enough to believe that the case would have reached such an abrupt and unfair conclusion?