There are some very interesting discussions being generated as a result of the Robert Lawlor acquittal in Hartford last week: what does this say about the community, what does it mean for the future of the city, will the mistrust between residents of the city and the police ever subside, is Hartford really one city or does everyone view the North End as a cesspool? [Even I arose from my slumber to post.]
Now, thanks to an “opinion piece” in today’s Courant, add one more conversation to the list: should there be a special “law enforcement self defense” provision in our law? The piece is authored by former prosecutor John Massameno (who, you might recall, was the prosecutor who oversaw the conviction of now exonerated Miguel Roman). Also, CT lawyers, stop the eye-rolling.
The piece is titled “Don’t charge police over errors”, so you would be right to believe that he is arguing for immunity from prosecution, not just a more expansive doctrine of self-defense. Indeed, most of his “opinion” piece reads like that:
Police officers need our help. They must make split-second but accurate decisions about using deadly force to protect themselves or others from harm. Occasionally, an officer makes a mistake. Absent some aggravating factor, such as an improper motive, the law should not criminalize officers’ good-faith mistakes in judgment. Otherwise, how can we expect them to take decisive action to protect lives when their own could be destroyed by doing so?
Yes, very good. But the crux of his “opinion” is an amendment to the self-defense statute, which would ask the jury to consider the dangers faced by police officers in their day-to-day business:
It gives an officer a defense to a homicide or assault charge when, in the line of duty, he “[makes] a mistake in judgment concerning the imminent use of force against him or a third person.” It requires the trial judge to tell jurors that “in assessing the reasonableness of the physical force used by [the] officer and … [his] belief that physical force would be used against him or a third person, [they must] consider the [officer's] unique status in the enforcement of the law, his background and training in the assessment of and response to the likelihood that physical force will be used against him, and the greater likelihood that physical force will be used against [an officer] than against a person not engaged in the enforcement of the law.”
The law wouldn’t require the jury to believe the defense, so when there’s evidence of some improper motive, such as racial hatred, a conviction for murder is still possible.