September 20, 2016, was a sad day for the people of Charlotte North Carolina when Keith Lamont Scott was fatally wounded by a police officer. His death, seemingly part of a wave of police violence, prompted protests and looting in the city. Family and community members were again bereaved when the Charlotte-Mecklenburg District Attorney, Andrew Murray announced that the District Attorney’s office would not be pursuing charges against Officer Vinson.

Many people want to know why no charges were filed in this case and in other cases across the country.  To begin, in a nearly 40-minute news conference Charlotte-Mecklenburg District Attorney Andrew Murray thoroughly outlined each and every piece of evidence that he and a team of 15 other prosecutors relied on to reach their conclusion that Officer Brentley Vinson’s actions were justified.  To understand why such tragic events like this do not always result in criminal charges being filed, it is crucial, to begin with the role of police and their authority to use force. Questions about the criminal charges you or someone you love is facing? Contact an Atlantic City criminal defense lawyer.

Police Officers Are Allowed to Use Deadly Force

The law throughout the country recognizes that there is an inherent right to self-defense to protect oneself or another from the use of deadly force or great bodily harm. This right to self-defense is afforded to every citizen in the United States. Similarly, a police officer is authorized to use deadly force in the same manner as every other citizen. Plainly, a police officer does not lose the protection of the law merely because they are also enforcing it. Therefore, a police officer would be entitled to use deadly force in the face of imminent harm. While killing another person may raise its own moral issues, legally, there are possible justifications for using deadly force.

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North Carolina law specifically addresses when this killing another is legally justified, which according to State v. Norris, 303 N.C. 526 (1981) is when it appeared to a person that it was necessary to kill in order to save himself from death or great bodily harm.  The New Jersey Supreme Court has also spoken on this issue. In State v. Rodriguez, 195 N.J. 165 (2008),

the New Jersey Supreme Court held that a person who acts in self-defense and kills in the honest and reasonable belief that the protection of his own life requires the use of deadly force cannot be convicted of murder, aggravated manslaughter, or manslaughter.   These two cases demonstrate that the use of deadly force can be justified in certain instances.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg District Attorney Andrew Murray, cited in a detailed report that the exhaustive investigation revealed that by all, “credible, available, and believable evidence, support[ed] the conclusion that Scott was armed with a gun,” and that “Scott drew a gun from his ankle holster when confronted by officers,” and furthermore that “video evidence shows that officers commanded Scott to drop the gun at least 10 times.”

Both North Carolina and New Jersey recognize that the same legal standards articulated in the cases of State v. Norris, 303 N.C. 526 (1981) and State v. Rodriguez, 195 N.J. 165 (2008) apply to police officers. Additionally, the United States Constitution as explained through federal court decisions have addressed the use of deadly force and when it is reasonable.

The United States Supreme Court stated, “[t]he ‘reasonableness’ of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.” Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 396 (1989). The Court further explained that “[t]he calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments – in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving – about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.” Id. at 396–97.

North Carolina as well as New Jersey both recognize that police officers have sworn an oath to enforce the laws and protect people and that this oath can at times put them in dangerous situations requiring the potential use of deadly force.

The New Jersey Attorney General has at times issued reports based on the collective judgment of the New Jersey Use of Force Advisory Committee instructing officers when they should use force, urging that “in situations where law enforcement officers are justified in using force, the utmost restraint should be exercised.” This makes it clear that police officers in New Jersey, North Carolina, and throughout the United States are authorized to use deadly force.

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Similarly, the North Carolina Attorney General’s office found that Officer Brentley Vinson was justified in using deadly force.

While police officers may have reason to use deadly force, recent events throughout the country have complained that police officers have begun using their guns and authority as a weapon rather than as a tool to maintain peace and civility.

Devoted Atlantic City, New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorneys

At the Law Offices of John J. Zarych, we exclusively handle criminal defense charges. To request a free consultation today, contact one of our skilled Cape May County homicide attorneys at (609) 616-4956. We are available seven days a week, including holidays.