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Legal, but is it Just?

December 6, 2013

Over at Popehat, Ken White is talking about a shooting by the NYPD where the man who was being shot at is currently under indictment for the fact that the NYPD hit two bystanders.


Unfortunately, that may very well be legal. The doctrine that a criminal bears responsibility for actions arising from his or her crime is very well established in American law. In other words, if a man takes a hostage and that hostage later dies in a shootout, the kidnapper bears the blame. He, after all, created the situation in which the hostage was put at risk.

So legally, it’s likely that Mr. Broadnax may be out of luck, although we’ll have to wait and see what the jury thinks.

But in this case, there are two other factors at play. The first is the question of whether or not Mr. Broadnax understood what was happening. He was suffering from mental illness at the time, and thus may not have been in control of his actions. He certainly wasn’t attempting to kidnap or harm anyone else. Due to the collapse of America’s mental healthcare networks, this is a problem that most police departments face, and unfortunately, in all too many cases, encounters with the mentally ill end in tragedy.

More importantly, there is the question of the fact that it was the police who shot the two bystanders. The NYPD has not exactly covered itself in glory when it comes to controlled gunfire in crowded areas.  Is Mr. Broadnax at fault if the police failed to follow proper procedure? That’s a dangerous precedent, for the simple reason that if the solution to bad police marksmanship becomes to simply charge the suspect—expect far more bad police marksmanship.

As has been said, legally this decision may stand on firm ground. But in terms of whether or not it is fair, just or even good policy, the issue is far murkier. If this case goes to trial it is likely that Mr. Broadnax’s defense attorney is going to play that component of the case for all its worth.



From → Police, Politics

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