Few people in Maryland would disagree that law enforcement officials face dangerous situations while on the job. Sometimes, their reactions to these situations turn deadly when officers draw their weapons and take the lives of suspected criminals. The majority of these shootings are justifiable, but, in some cases, prosecutors believe the behavior of the officers involved rose to the point of being criminal, and charges, such as murder or manslaughter, are filed. Just as is the case with anyone accused of a crime, a police officer charged in a fatal shooting is entitled to a criminal defense to help preserve his or her freedom.
Data gathered by one news source indicates that approximately 54 officers across the country faced criminal charges for shootings in the past decade. Evidence in these cases indicated that the individuals killed were not armed at the time the shots were fired. However, this is often not enough to substantiate a criminal charge.
Typically, cases filed against police officers featured one or more similar factors, such as whether the decedent was shot in the back, whether other officers came forward to testify against the accused officer or whether a cover-up was alleged. Charges may also be filed if a video recording of the shooting indicates misconduct on the part of the officer. For instance, an officer in North Carolina was recently charged with murder after a video surfaced showing him firing several shots at a fleeing suspect.
Unlike other Maryland residents, police officers are expected to use deadly force under a prescribed set of circumstances. The details of every officer-involved shooting are reviewed to determine whether the officer's actions were justified. If both the police department and prosecutors believe a shooting was questionable, the officer may be criminally charged. He or she faces the same severe penalties as anyone else charged with a violent crime. With the stakes so high, it is critical that the officer has a criminal defense strategy firmly in place.
Source: The Washington Post, "Fatal shootings by on-duty police officers: An analysis", Kimberly Kindy & Kimbriell Kelly, April 11, 2015