“All or Nothing” in the Prosecution of Police Shootings
The Hill, July 20, 2020
2 Pages Posted: 23 Jul 2020
Date Written: July 20, 2020
Police officers who kill citizens under questionable circumstances are rarely convicted of homicide, but that probably has more to do with bad law than with the prejudices of prosecutors or juries. The majority view in the United States allows a justification defense only if the defendant’s belief in the necessity for the use of the force is entirely reasonable. Any unreasonable mistake, even an honest but negligent or reckless one, provides no defense and leaves the officer open to liability for murder. While that hardline approach may have been intended to set a high standard of conduct for the use of deadly force, it commonly presents juries with two bad choices: convicting for murder an officer who has made an honest but unreasonable mistake in responding to a situation thrust upon him or her by the job, or giving a complete acquittal to an officer who does deserve some criminal liability. Given these two bad choices, the jury typically takes the latter over the former.
Keywords: Law enforcement, criminal law, jury decision making, police-involved homicides, use of force
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