One of the most controversial issues concerning the police over the last decade has been when police should resort to the use of deadly force. Police and advocates for officer’s safety argue that they should be able to use deadly force when they feel there is a serious danger to themselves or the safety of the public, but critics believe this loose standard has allowed for police to get away with killing innocent citizens who presented no real threat. San Diego criminal lawyer Peter Liss says a new bill may make it easier for prosecutors to press charges against police who use deadly force when it isn’t necessary.
From Reasonable to Necessary
Right now, the standard police must meet in order to use deadly force is that they are motivated by a reasonable fear based on the situation and their training. This must be judged on how they feel in the moment, not looking back on the incident later on, so if police see someone holding something that could be a weapon, they can shoot, even if it turns out to only be a cell phone.
The newly proposed law would change that standard to only allow police to use deadly force “when it is necessary to prevent imminent and serious bodily injury or death — that is, if, given the totality of the circumstances, there was no reasonable alternative to using deadly force, including warnings, verbal persuasion, or other non-lethal methods of resolution or de-escalation.” If an officer doesn’t do enough to attempt to de-escalate the situation, he could have charges filed against him -although San Diego criminal attorneys believe this part of the bill could be watered down a bit by the time it actually becomes law.
A Higher Standard Will Mean More Prosecutions
Not only will this higher standard mean more people will be taken into custody to face charges rather than being killed, but also more police will likely end up facing charges when they turn to deadly force too quickly. Right now it is reasonably difficult for prosecutors to successfully file charges against an officer who has killed someone, even in shocking cases such as that of Willie McCoy, who was shot while sleeping in his car with a gun in his hand. That’s because the prosecutors must be able to show that the officer was motivated by a reasonable fear at the time. For example, in the McCoy case, while the victim may have been sleeping, the fact that he had a gun in his hand gave the police a reasonable fear that he would shoot at the police were he to wake up, which is why no charges were filed.
Whereas criminal charges against police officers who kill unarmed civilians have been increasing these days, in part thanks to body cams and civilian recordings, San Diego criminal defense attorneys believe that changing this law will result in a drastic increase in the number of charges filed against police officers who use deadly force. Whether or not this will cause a dramatic decline in the number of deaths associated with police shootings is unknown. Similarly, it’s unknown how often officers who are charged with these shootings will actually be convicted.
Under the existing laws, it has proven difficult for prosecutors in San Diego to win jury trial convictions against the few officers charged with unreasonable or deadly force. That could be a result of the current laws, but also a natural sympathy jurors have for the difficult situations police officers face.
Only time will tell whether or not this bill will be passed and if so, how it will change police behavior. In the mean time, if you feel the police violated your rights through illegal search and seizure or the use of excess force, San Diego defense lawyer Peter M. Liss can help. Please call (760) 643-4050 or (858) 486-3024 to schedule a free initial consultation.
Image by Wesley Marçal