The case against Minnesota officer Jeronimo Yanez for the murder of Philando Castile has finally come to a close. To the surprise of anyone who viewed the Facebook Live video of the aftermath, uploaded by Mr. Castile's fiancee, the jury actually found Yanez not guilty.
Though there is no doubt that Yanez pulled the trigger and killed Philando Castile, this decision, which took five days of deliberations by the jury, goes a long way toward vindicating Officer Yanez of criminal wrongdoing. Despite being cleared of the criminal charges, Yanez and his department can still face a civil wrongful death lawsuit brought by Mr. Castile's next of kin.
Details of the Case
Yanez's defense attorneys argued that he believed Mr. Castile was reaching for his gun, while high on marijuana, just days after committing armed robbery. The prosecution argued that these defenses didn't make sense and lacked truth. Before being shot and killed, Mr. Castile explicitly stated he was not reaching for his gun, after notifying the officer of his permitted weapon. Logically, if Mr. Castile was going to shoot the officer, or reach for his gun, which he was legally entitled to carry, why would he tell the officer that he had a weapon?
However, the jury was either not convinced by the prosecutor, or maybe they just thought that Yanez was incapable of understanding basic logic. Sadly, what Yanez believed at the time of the incident is actually critical, legally, in this type of case. An officer's subjective belief of imminent danger can justify the use of reasonable force, including deadly force, if the officer is in fear for their life, and their subjective belief is objectively reasonable. These cases are less about objective facts, and more about the officer's subjective belief of the facts, and whether that belief was reasonable.
Civil Murder Lawsuits
Perhaps the most famous civil murder trial involves the infamous OJ Simpson. After being acquitted of the criminal murder charges, the family of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman won a civil lawsuit against OJ for wrongful death.
Basically, the civil and criminal courts are different systems. Although a person may have been found innocent of a crime, they can still face civil liability for their actions. Unfortunately for individuals that just barely beat criminal charges, the standard of proof in civil cases is much lower, meaning that it's easier to prove a civil case against a defendant than it is to prove a criminal case.