A criminal charge can be life changing for those tasked to enforce the law. Yet, without the correct use of force, a dangerous situation can turn deadly. Where is the balance within the law? When prosecutors believe an officer has overstepped his or her boundaries, they may bring up charges of murder or manslaughter.
On-duty officers have used deadly force against civilians approximately 1,000 times per year since 2005. These incidents have resulted in just 77 charges of murder or manslaughter and 26 convictions as of September 2016. This means a conviction happens in less than one-third of one percent of all confrontations resulting in deadly force.
A local police officer in Minnesota is currently facing trial for second-degree manslaughter and two counts of dangerous discharge of a deadly weapon related to the July 2016 death of Philando Castile. The case marks the first time in the state’s history in which an officer is charged with killing a civilian. How might the case end?
Murder vs. Manslaughter
The end result of murder and manslaughter is the same. However, there are differences in the actor’s determination or intent that make up the two charges. Murder signals intent or premeditation to kill while manslaughter means a person may not have intended to kill someone, but still acted in a criminally negligent way.
For example, the officer on trial in Minnesota faces second-degree manslaughter charges. Therefore, the prosecution must prove that his culpable negligence created an unreasonable risk of causing death or great bodily harm by shooting his weapon, according to state statute. How will the defense approach this case?
The officer’s attorneys say he acted in self-defense after he told Castile not to reach for his weapon, which he was legally permitted to carry. The defense team has also argued that only the officer’s perception of the events that led to the shooting are relevant, but this could mean that the officer has to waive his right to remain silent by taking the stand at trial.
Understanding the nuances of the trial procedure and an officer’s constitutional rights are important considerations when facing criminal charges. An experienced attorney can present numerous defense strategies to give an officer many legal options before, during and after a trial.
Through a trial, a defense attorney can balance society’s need for justice with an officer’s duty to enforce the law.