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.
Jeronimo Yanez, a former local police officer in Minnesota, was acquitted of second-degree manslaughter charges and two counts of dangerous discharge of a deadly weapon related to the July 2016 death of Philando Castile. The case marked the first time in the state's history in which an officer was charged with killing a civilian. How does the definition of manslaughter shape a legal defense?
Murder vs. Manslaughter
Murder and manslaughter both fall under the definition of homicide. 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, officer Yanez faced second-degree manslaughter charges. Therefore, the prosecution attempted to 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 did the defense approach this case?
Yanez and his attorneys said he acted in self-defense after he told Castile not to reach for a weapon in which Castile was legally carrying. The defense team also argued that only Yanez's perception of the events that led to the shooting were relevant. However, this notion meant that Yanez had to waive his right against potential self-incrimination 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.