Legal Question: How can a Cop defend themselves against a manslaughter charge?

I want to be clear that I’m not asking for speculation whether this ex cop’s actions were or weren’t justified. He’s already been fired months ago for filing an inaccurate report on the incident.

Ok the first quote sums up the case. What has me baffled is how an attorney could defend this ex-cop without bringing up self-defense. This wasn’t an accidental shooting. The gun didn’t fall out of his holster and discharge. There was a reason he fired (right or wrong) and the judge is basically forbidding them from using that reason.

What strategy could a lawyer use to defend his client?

btw, the jury deadlocked Saturday after seven hours and is coming back Sunday to deliberate some more. So they may have problems understanding this case too. :stuck_out_tongue:

Usually manslaughter cases involve accidents. Someone is cleaning their gun and it goes off. Their carelessness gets someone killed. Or a driver on the highway runs down a pedestrian walking on the shoulder of the road. You have to convince the jury that you were driving in a reasonable and safe manner.

I’m not understanding how the officer’s decision to fire his weapon can be evaluated without raising the argument that he felt his life was in danger.

http://www.thv11.com/news/crime/269113/370/Josh-Hastings-Trial-Day-5-Accident-reconstruction-expert-questioned

There’s not much in that article, but if a car is coming right at you, what makes more sense - to open fire on the driver or just get the fuck out of the way? I’d say the judge has every reason to be pissed if he’s ruled on this and they keep trying to make the argument anyway. It’s essentially a backdoor attempt at jury nullification in my opinion.

To me, it sounds like the judge is acting unreasonably. The officer was being attacked with a deadly weapon, and responded by killing his assailant. If he was acting recklessly it is up to the prosecution to prove it, not the other way around.

Ok, self defence is a hollow argument if the officer had the ability to get out of the way. A 15yr old child dying cos he stole a car seems an extreme and disproportionate form of justice so it is right that this incident be tested in court.

Furthermore the police department must have taken a similar view if they fired the officer. Normally you’d expect them to back up their men.

That is not a reasonable standard to hold people to. You can say in hindsight that this would be the best course of action, but somebody isn’t trying to kill you.

The teenager didn’t die because he stole a car, he died because he stole a car and tried to run over a cop.

The allegation has been made that the suspect may have been fleeing when the officer fired. The state put on several expert witnesses trying to establish the movements of the car. Theres even been speculation that the car was in reverse and backing away from the officer. The experts on both sides testified during the trial.

Thats up to the jury to decide. They return for more deliberations Sunday.

Someone fire that idiot of a judge. It’s the job of the prosecution, not the defence ’ to prove he was not reckless and that he acted reasonably but that isn’t the same as self-defense’.

Or is this creative incompetence?

Reread the OP. The officer had been fired for filing a false report on the incident in question.

Could it be an issue directed against the defense lawyer? The judge may essentially be ruling that the lawyer is not providing an adequate defense. Hastings is accused of manslaughter. A self-defense argument might not be applicable to the elements of that charge and have no value for Hastings’s defense. The jury could end up agreeing that Hastings acted in self-defense and still find him guilty. So the judge is basically saying “Stop arguing about the self-defense issue and start arguing something that might actually help your client.”

The deceased must be a relative of a judge ,why else would they prosecute.

The defense lawyer can say whatever he likes to the jury,
apart from pointing out the conflict of interest/corruption inherent in the system (eg he can’t tell the jury that the deceased was a relative of the a judge… )

It is clear that the police officer’s life was not in danger, he simply had to move out of the way. He may even have placed himself in the way of the car. I’m familiar with a similar case where the police officer did not hit anything when he fired, this allowed him to escape prosecution, and there may be many cases like this where there is no prosecution when there should be. The police can’t shoot people simply because it’s the most convenient course of action.

FWIW: In PA, the DA has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the Deft. did not act in self defense, but only if some evidence that he may have has been introduced during the trial. Perhaps, in the case under discussion, no such evidence was presented to the jury; thus, prompting the judge to admonish the lawyers to steer clear of that subject in their closing arguments.

FYI, I reported the thread so that it can be moved to IMHO.

I love the “Child” tag on the perp. I prefer 15 YO thief or thug.
As to just stepping out of the way. I would speculate that those saying this have never been in a deadly force situation, and to sit back and armchair quarterback a decision that has to be made in a split second is ridiculous.
How about this; You stand in the middle of a 24’ roadway. I’m 30’ away in a 3000 lbs. car ready to accelerate. You can run left or right and I can steer left or right while accelerating hard with the intent to run you over. Do you like your chances?

Tactically, the officer shouldn’t have put himself in vulnerable position but sometimes things happen quickly. If you tell someone to get out of the car and keep your hands visible and they suddenly start accelerating at you you have to make quick decisions.

In 25 years as a road trooper I’ve been in this situation more than once. After it happens the first time the possibility that someone may try and run you over is always in your mind and you always keep an escape path in mind. Also shooting at the vehicle is a poor response. Even if you hit the driver the vehicle isn’t going to just stop. Trying to shoot a tire or radiator also isn’t going to stop the vehicle quickly enough. The best plan is to always have an escape path, but in the real world of fluid and dynamic deadly situations things don’t always go to the plan.

This is an unusual and troubling case. The teen had a criminal record, gun in the car and weed. That of course was hidden from the jury.
http://littlerock.todaysthv.com/news/news/204993-teens-criminal-record-banned-trial-former-lr-officer

The officer probably made mistakes. But he was out there risking his life every day serving the public. It’s very difficult accepting that he may spend years in prison for a split second decision he made under very stressful and dangerous conditions. Thats probably why the jury was still undecided after seven hours of deliberations Saturday. They’re in there right now for a 2nd day.

IANAL but excluding that information seems correct to me; the officer could not have known that the driver had a record, a gun and marijuana, so it couldn’t have figured into his actions that day.

Here is a link to the LRPD letter firing him.
As BaxtersDad mentioned, LR policeman aren’t supposed to be in front of a vehicle, and aren’t supposed to fire at a moving vehicle. He had lied about in his actions in a different case.

I’m still not getting it. I could be wrong since there may be vagaries of the statute that involved here of which I’m not aware. But assuming that this is garden variety manslaughter, it should be as you astutely observed in your OP - it has to be more than simple negligence.

Now the way that normally works in MS is also as you pointed out. First you decide on the standard that you’re going to use. This has to be something that permits behavior that is merely negligent but not anything grossly beyond that or behavior which is clearly intentional.

Of course actual intent isn’t usually at issue if MS is the highest grade offense so what you are usually working with is some application of the concept of constructive intent or gross negligence - which would be the monikers in the civil arena.

This is a departure from that normal scenario however and therefore requires an understanding of the legal principles involved rather than what the typical fact patterns happen to be.

Note that the distinction is normally made between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter and this would qualify as the former obviously. If you think about though, it sounds like a contradiction since a voluntary killing should be murder since in both cases it’s an intentional act. But this is where the confusion in this case probably comes in.

The reason for making VMS a less serious offense is that generally speaking, it “is accompanied by additional circumstances that mitigate, but do not excuse, the killing.” (cite)

IOW, this is not unlike claim an affirmative defense. That’s where you freely admit to a crime but claim that you should be exempt from prosecution by virtue of some higher public policy consideration such as the right to defend oneself or others. The difference here though is that whereas an affirmative defense must be raised AND PROVED by a defendant, whatever favorable consideration the defendant is entitled to based on the facts is already built into the charges.

To put it another way, if the prosecution didn’t already think that the officer’s actions could at least be understood as being a human, if perhaps irrational and disproportionate response to the situation, then the cop would also have been charged with homicide.

Now I’m going to guess you won’t like that explanation so, here’s another one which I offer because I think the free dictionary linked to above doesn’t really get it.

The real issue with VMS I think is reasonableness of belief. Remember that criminal law is all about mens rea. What were your intentions as demonstrated by what you said and did? Here, even if we assume the best of intentions on the part of the officer, we still have to ask if his actions constituted a reasonable means of effecting those intentions. Just like the person cleaning his gun across from his kid. There may have been no intent to harm, but was that something a reasonable person would do?

The termination letter makes it clear Little Rock cops aren’t allowed to use deadly force stopping fleeing vehicles unless there’s a clear danger to the public or themselves.

That pretty much shuts down nearly every hollywood action movie. :wink: But its a good policy. Shootouts in parking lots or streets aren’t desirable or necessary in real life.

We just don’t know for sure what the officer did when he arrived at the scene and how he ended up facing down a car.

I just don’t understand this statement. Isn’t “self-defense” a possible subset of “acted reasonably”?