Given today's political and social climate, it is no secret that police killings have been under public scrutiny. With videos and outside accounts surfacing regarding any death at the hands of an officer, it has become common to question the intent or circumstances of the officer who pulled the trigger. The public wants answers: was the officer really in danger? What constitutes the use of deadly force? Why wasn't non-lethal force used? Worse still, sometimes evidence or facts come to light that show that the officer may have been in the wrong. When this happens, many will want to see the officer prosecuted for a potential crime. Officers on duty often do not get the same treatment as an average citizen. In fact, according to some research done by Seattle Times, officers who kill while on duty may be much harder to prosecute for the same crime as an average citizen. No one is above the law, but the reach of criminal justice system sometimes has trouble extending to law enforcement officers.
"Good Faith and Without Malice"
According to RCW 9A.16.040, officers will not be prosecuted for killing someone while on duty as long as they "acted with good faith and without malice." What does this mean for the average citizen? While the average citizen will be held accountable to a degree "beyond reasonable doubt," an officer will be held to the standard of "acting with good faith and without malice." It may not seem like much, but there is a big difference between these two statements. An average citizen that kills someone must be convicted if the jury rules that the likelihood that they committed the crime goes beyond any normal shred of doubt. A police officer killing someone will not even be prosecuted if there is no proof of some sort of malice.
This standard of malicious intent is unique to Washington State. If you are killed by an officer, unless there is any hard proof of the officer's malice in the situation, he will never face a judge and jury. If an officer kills someone while on duty, even if the situation does not necessarily meet the necessary requirements or circumstances for the officer to use deadly force, he cannot be held accountable for his misdeed unless there is sufficient evidence of malicious intent.
To put this in perspective, in the past ten years, just one officer out of the 213 deadly police shootings from 2005 to 2014 has seen criminal charges. Obviously, not all police officers go around gunning down innocent civilians at whim, but given the national exposure of the reality of police violence, the law may need more scrutiny when it comes to fatal action by law enforcement.
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