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  1. #1
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    Default Is Law Enforcement Use of Lethal Force Investigated as a Crime

    My question involves criminal law for the state of: Missouri and any federal charges that might be applicable.

    Hi,

    I was wondering if anyone could answer a question about police shootings, and how a use of force incident becomes a criminal act. My question is not limited to the case of Darren Wilson (officer) and Mike Brown (suspect) in Ferguson MO, but it is the example I would like to cite. When an officer uses lethal force, and the suspect dies, does that officer become a murder suspect? If so, at what point does the officer become a criminal suspect?

    Thank you for any responses.

  2. #2
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    Nov 2013
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    Default Re: Is Law Enforcement Use of Lethal Force Investigated as a Crime

    They investigate the incident, the prosecutor brings it before a Grand Jury if they see cause, the Grand Jury hands up a Bill or not. No bill no indictment, no crime, no suspect. The Grand Jury hands up a Bill it could be for any number of crimes (not just murder).

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Is Law Enforcement Use of Lethal Force Investigated as a Crime

    Almost all police departments investigate any shooting by the officer (whether the suspect dies or is even struck by a bullet) as an internal matter. It is up to the department and the prosecutor whether to also pursue a criminal investigation. I suspect that with a lot of the incidents/press of late, there may be some more independent review of these things coming to a lot of department rather than relegating the first line of investigation to internal affairs.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Is Law Enforcement Use of Lethal Force Investigated as a Crime

    Quote Quoting CAMIV
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    My question involves criminal law for the state of: Missouri and any federal charges that might be applicable.
    When an officer uses lethal force, and the suspect dies, does that officer become a murder suspect? If so, at what point does the officer become a criminal suspect?
    Being a “suspect” simply means that someone suspects he may have committed a crime. That can happen at any time; it could happen immediately after the incident. But simply saying someone is a suspect isn’t very meaningful because nothing adverse (in the legal sense, at least) occurs simply because he is a suspect. Certainly a person who is suspected (rightfully or not) of having committed some offense may take a beating in the media and in the realm of public opinion.

    The prosecutor or grand jury must have at least probable cause to charge someone with a crime. It’s not a very demanding standard, but it does require that the state have some evidence that supports each element of the offense. It’s largely up to the prosecutor whether to pursue prosecuting the suspect unless the evidence is so lacking that even the low standard of probable cause cannot be met.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Is Law Enforcement Use of Lethal Force Investigated as a Crime

    Quote Quoting CAMIV
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    I was wondering if anyone could answer a question about police shootings, and how a use of force incident becomes a criminal act. My question is not limited to the case of Darren Wilson (officer) and Mike Brown (suspect) in Ferguson MO, but it is the example I would like to cite. When an officer uses lethal force, and the suspect dies, does that officer become a murder suspect? If so, at what point does the officer become a criminal suspect?

    Thank you for any responses.
    The killing of one human being by another is a "homicide." That being said, it is not necessarily an unlawful homicide.

    The shooting of a citizen by an officer WILL be investigated as a homicide. Murder is a very specific legal determination and would only be charged if specific facts emerged as a result of the investigation. If an officer is charged, it tends to be the equivalent of manslaughter (a lesser form of homicide where the intent is generally not as great an issue), but the specific charge(s) would depend on state law.

    While protocols vary, it is not uncommon that a bifurcated investigation might take place after a shooting. You will have an internal probe to determine if any policies and procedures were violated in the incident, and a criminal investigation - or, at least, an inquiry to determine if such an investigation might be warranted. Typically, info from the criminal investigation can be passed to the internal investigation, but not vice-versa. And, it is also not uncommon for the internal inquiry to stand down until any criminal investigation is completed.

    But, to directly answer your query, an officer is generally NOT investigated as a "murder" suspect. Though, state law (like in CA) may afford the officer a number of the same rights afforded to criminal suspects during even the internal inquiry. Unlike typical criminal defendants, however, an officer in an internal investigation can NOT hide behind Miranda and MUST answer questions put to him if ordered to do so or face discipline up to and including termination. This is also one reason why evidence and statements obtained in the internal investigation cannot be passed along to the criminal investigators.
    **********
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  6. #6
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    Default Re: Is Law Enforcement Use of Lethal Force Investigated as a Crime

    Carl explained that better than I could. But, to continue with his thoughts…yes, a police shooting (whether the person shot dies or not) will be investigated as a POTENTIAL criminal matter and, therefore, the officer is a known POTENTIAL suspect. BUT, the first thing that ANY criminal investigation must determine is whether any crime was, in fact, committed! Not every shooting death, whether the shooter was a cop or anyone else, is a murder or even a crime. I believe that every state in the union has laws allowing for justifiable self-defense, that includes the use of lethal force.

    So, yes, a criminal investigation will be immediately commenced. Since it will almost certainly be known that the officer fired the fatal shot(s), the officer will be, by definition, a potential "suspect" in that investigation. However, the person shot is ALSO a potential suspect in that investigation. If the investigation shows that the officer acted in justifiable self-defense or defense of another, the officer's status is better characterized as the VICTIM of the criminal actions that necessitated the self-defense shooting. Only if the investigation shows that the shooting was a criminal act would the officer actually be labeled as a "suspect" in the investigation. A proper investigation has to determine what crime, if any, was committed BEFORE any labels like "suspect" or "victim" can be responsibly applied. In the vast majority of officer involved shootings, the investigation conclusively shows that the officer is the victim of the criminal activity and the deceased is the one that actually committed a criminal offense.
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