The question of whether, and how much, police officers should be held accountable for their actions during stressful detainments and arrests is a question that has dominated discussion in the media and in politics for many years, without sufficient results. It has become clear that there is an elusive line somewhere between true accidental human error and willful neglect that we can never seem to accurately identify.
The location of this line becomes even more convoluted when an officer’s predetermined immunity may, or may not, surpass the constitutional rights of a person accused of committing a crime.
An Officer’s Immunity
Every member of law enforcement are given the benefit of the doubt, to a certain extent, when it comes to their actions while on the job. It’s a form of trust. This is called a qualified immunity and it is a real hot-button topic.
Qualified immunity allows law enforcement to make reasonable decisions based upon their current situation. For example, they can get physical with a person who endangers the safety or lives of others. They are supposed to act in clear faith and most do their best to do so.
An officer’s immunity is questioned when their actions violate a person’s constitutional rights or the officer knowingly and willingly commits a crime to reach a certain end. For example, should an officer who physically detained a suspect and finds that they have contributed in that suspect’s death, however unintentionally, face punishment?
It’s all about intent.
Our only way of determining a person’s intent is in our court structure and trial process. The court case against a former police officer, Derek Chauvin, is the most current battle against an ex-officer that could bring us further in recognizing and addressing the problematic issues that create dangerous and devastating situations like these.
The Chauvin Trial
The trial of a former police officer, Derek Chauvin is set to begin soon with jury questioning in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Mr. Chauvin is being tried individually on several charges, including:
- Second-degree murder
- Second-degree manslaughter
- Third-degree murder (possible)
He was witnessed and recorded pinning Mr. George Floyd on the ground by placing his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for nine minutes against the asphalt in an attempt to physically detain Floyd for an arrest. Mr. Floyd was accused of buying items with a counterfeit $20 bill at a local grocery store.
Emergency units were requested after the officers realized that Floyd had stopped breathing, but he did not visibly receive any emergency healthcare from officers until EMT arrival, which was over 2 minutes in duration. So many questions come to mind.
- Were Floyd’s constitutional rights as an American upheld?
- Did Floyd present himself as dangerous in any way?
- Why did Chauvin feel he needed to use force?
- Did he use it excessively?
- If he did, how culpable is he in Floyd’s death?
Serious problems concerning excessive force and abuse in the law enforcement community AND the safety of our police officers immediately led to emotional responses on both sides that are increasing with intensity as we move closer to trial.
Finding judicious and open-minded jurors may prove difficult with the notoriety of the case and the continued rescheduling due to COVID-19 precautions and questions related to specific charges. Jury selection could take weeks, but the process has been put on hold due to some confusion on Chauvin’s specific charges and the possibility of additional charges.
Currently, the defense team and prosecutors will begin preliminary motions in front of the judge to discuss evidence and testimony while they wait for an okay to choose their jury.
Contact us immediately at Anderson Law Firm, PLLC if you have been accused of committing a crime. Our talented, compassionate, and knowledgeable team are here for you when you need it most. Consultations are always free.
DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this article does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Please contact attorney Kirk Anderson for an initial consultation.