Outlaws over lawmen

In Mizrahi’s case, perhaps Peres should step in.

shahar mizrahi 311 (photo credit: Channel 10)
shahar mizrahi 311
(photo credit: Channel 10)
 “The law isn’t justice. It’s a very imperfect mechanism. If you press exactly the right buttons and are also lucky, justice may show up in the answer.” – Raymond Chandler
Anyone with even cursory familiarity with the legal system realizes that justice and fairness are by no means identical to legal strictures. What the law stipulates doesn’t necessarily mesh with what common sense dictates. A truly wise judiciary strives to bridge the gap between the average citizen’s intuition and legal instructions.
Our courts, however, sometimes seem bent on acquiring a reputation for supercilious insensitivity. An emotive case in point is the Supreme Court’s decision last Wednesday to double the prison time to which Hadera police detective Shahar Mizrahi was sentenced last September by the Central District Court.
Mizrahi had been sent down for 15 months, with another 15 months on probation, for the manslaughter shooting of car thief Mahmoud Ghanayem. Mizrahi apprehended Ghanayem in the act, was attacked with a screwdriver and pushed down. Immobilized by an injured ankle, Mizrahi said he shot at Ghanayem as he sped at him in the stolen vehicle, perhaps trying to run him over.
The lower court’s original sentence shocked the police and, claiming self-defense, Mizrahi appealed. So did the prosecution. To the police’s horror, not only was Mizrahi’s conviction upheld, but his jail-time was doubled. The court ruled that there was no significant evidence to back up Mizrahi’s account of what had unfolded.
Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch decreed that “the district court erred by giving more weight to Mizrahi’s personal circumstances and not enough to the value of the life that Mizrahi cut short. It also didn’t consider sufficiently the wider deterrent ramifications.”
Superficially, this may be reminiscent of the Shai Dromi case – in which the Negev rancher shot a Beduin rustler.
But Mizrahi was no vigilante taking the law into his own hands. Therefore, the deterrent of which Beinisch spoke appears aimed at law-enforcement personnel. “With little effort,” she averred, “Mizrahi could have avoided the danger he felt and shot at the car tires or the deceased’s legs.”
However, Judge Menahem Finkelstein, who presided over Mizrahi’s original trial, had argued that the incident evolved so rapidly, there was no time for careful evaluation, especially as the shooting occurred seconds after Ghanayem attacked the policeman with his screwdriver.
BEINISCH MAY have the dry language of the law on her side. The problem is in the application.
A court that doesn’t factor in extenuating circumstances is remiss. Yet here, second-guessing judges downplayed Mizrahi’s subjective sense of acute danger. Given the situation in which he was caught, as the district court judge evidently concluded, he had every rational reason to believe that his life was on the line.
For the Supreme Court to conclude otherwise required the justices to dismiss the instincts of a man on the ground facing an oncoming car – a man who was not operating in air-conditioned chambers, with hours to weigh pros and cons, calculate trajectories and mull over the thief’s legal standing.
When a ruling such as this one, even if it is in perfect accord with the letter of the law, violates the law’s spirit and egregiously offends ordinary folks’ notion of justice, it is – to put it mildly – counterproductive. In the popular perception, the highest court in our land preferred the rights of outlaws to the mission – indeed, the very lives – of lawmen.
In this regard, the case of another officer, Shlomi Asulin, is instructive. Four years ago, Asulin was stabbed with a screwdriver by a Beduin car thief he was attempting to apprehend in Rehovot. Asulin didn’t shoot. He has been in a vegetative state ever since. Indeed, Asulin’s condition was reported to have deteriorated on the very day the Supreme Court doubled Mizrahi’s jail time.
A society that seeks to maintain law and order must ask itself who will protect it if the courts refuse to consider the special combat-like circumstances under which officers sometimes must make split-second lifeand- death calls.
Policemen and -women are overworked and underpaid.
If they additionally feel thrown to the legal dogs, their motivation will be further undermined, and fewer yet will enlist in the service. The consequences for society collectively and each of us individually could be dire.
In Mizrahi’s case, perhaps President Shimon Peres might want to step into the breach.