Hurdles Are High for Indictment in Police Shootings


When and why should police use lethal force, and who decides whether it is reasonable? The Los Angeles Times says those questions are in play in Missouri as a grand jury weighs whether to indict police Officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old. The hurdles for indicting or convicting a uniformed officer are high, for many reasons. One of them is the “great deference” given to police officers, said Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Irvine School of Law.

Police use of force is guided by the 4th Amendment, which protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. Another legal standard is that police should use no more force than is reasonably necessary. The big question is just what is reasonable. Law professor Franklin E. Zimring, who directs the criminal justice research program at UC Berkeley’s Earl Warren Legal Institute, said “enormous obstacles” hinder criminal cases involving law enforcement officers. One impediment is the burden of proof, which requires prosecutors to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an officer acted improperly.

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