Alan Dershowitz, The Hill, December 24, 2021
The jury’s conviction of Minnesota police officer Kim Potter for the death of Daunte Wright, coupled with the judge’s denial of bail pending her appeal, is a double injustice with dangerous implications for policing in America.
Officer Potter, a decorated policewoman with more than two decades of service, simply did not commit a crime. The prosecution conceded that she did not intend to shoot Wright and that she made a mistake by pulling out and firing a gun instead of a Taser.
Under American law, honest mistakes are not crimes — even if they result in tragic deaths. For example, an elderly driver accidentally putting a foot on the gas instead of the brake and killing a child is not necessarily a crime. It becomes a crime only if the action was reckless, involving a conscious decision to engage in conduct which the defendant knows poses a high risk of serious injury or death.
In this case, there was no evidence that Potter consciously made the decision to deploy and fire a gun as distinguished from a Taser. Nor was there sufficient evidence to demonstrate that Potter’s conscious decision to stun Wright was criminal. Wright had an outstanding warrant for an armed crime, and his conscious decision to resist arrest and get back in his car constituted a direct threat to the life of Potter’s fellow officer and others. She was right to stun him, but she made a mistake by firing the wrong weapon.
The conviction and imprisonment of Officer Potter represents a dangerous trend in American law. Prior to the racial “reckoning” that followed the unjustified killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in May 2020, a once-respected officer like Potter would never have been charged with criminal conduct for her tragic mistake. But the public demanded that she be charged. Indeed, some called for her to be accused of murder.
Every American, regardless of race or political persuasion, should be concerned when a decent police officer is indecently charged and convicted for making the kind of honest mistake that any person could make when confronted with the pressures of a life-or-death immediate decision. Police officers will be disincentivized by this decision to take actions which may be necessary to protect innocent life.