Thankfully I had just parked my car when DFW radio talker Mark Davis began interviewing Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson concerning the indictment of former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger in the death of Botham Jean a few days ago. Had I been driving, I might have wrecked when she began trying to justify the indictment of Ms. Guyger for murder.
To be clear, as a former police chief, police instructor, firearms instructor, and experienced investigator, I have many questions about the death of Mr. Jean. It seems extremely unlikely Ms. Guyger’s actions can be justified. With that said, this piece is not about the shooting itself. Instead, this is about the indictment, and what that indictment might mean for others in the future. The piece also questions the reasoning an allegedly qualified, conservative district attorney used to justify the indictment.
Specifically, Ms. Johnson stated the indictment was justified because of the definition of murder. For the record, the definition to which she alluded is when someone “intentionally or knowingly causes the death of an individual.” [TPC § 19.02 (b) (1)] Ms. Johnson paraphrased the definition, but her statement was close enough for government work.
At this point, I am tempted to veer off a bit into a technical discussion of murder and other forms of homicide. In this case, that would be akin to carrying sand to the beach. The local media and others on social media have thoroughly explored the options available in this matter. Besides, the concern here is not other possible charges. Instead, the concern here is that the current DA is establishing a precedent the incoming DA may continue or exploit.
Ms. Johnson clearly stated in her defense of the Grand Jury decision that anyone intentionally or knowingly causing the death of another can be true billed on a murder charge in Dallas County. The problem is this. If someone breaks into your home and you defend yourself with deadly force, you may knowingly and intentionally cause the death of another. Yes, you can protect yourself with deadly force under those circumstances, but doing so still places you in jeopardy.
Some may be thinking, “Jeopardy? Not in Texas! Texas has the castle doctrine, and Texans have a right to defend their families and their property.” Yes, they do, but there are limitations, restrictions, and consequences if one makes a mistake in such a situation. Consider a slightly different scenario in the Amber Guyger case.
Suppose former officer Guyger had just come home from her extra long work day and was in her apartment. Due to the double shifts, overtime work, just not getting enough rest or whatever, she fails to close and latch her door.
A short time later, Mr. Jean accidentally parks on the wrong floor, enters the building, walks to what he thinks is his apartment, pushes open the door, and confronts Ms. Guyger in the darkened apartment. Or in other words, made the same mistake Ms. Guyger allegedly made on the night of Mr. Jean’s death. A confrontation ensues, and Mr. Jean is killed.
Given the world in which we live today, does anyone really believe the outcome would be any different? Technically, if Ms. Guyger were in her residence and felt threatened or thought Mr. Jean was there to rob her, she would probably be within her rights to use deadly force. Still, under the definition of murder in the penal code, and as stated by the current DA, she could be indicted for murder.
Some might scoff at the hypothetical scenario and outcome above. The idea that someone might be charged, indicted, and tried for shooting an intruder in their home seems ludicrous in Texas. While that might have been true in our parents’ Texas, things are different today. Between the racial component of this case and social media, it is likely the aftermath of the hypothetical situation would be the same as what the officer faces today. There is just too much pressure on elected and appointed officials, including prosecuting attorneys and judges for them to stand up to accusations such as they encounter in 2018.
As of this moment, no one knows the eventual outcome of this case. Perhaps there is evidence of misconduct beyond poor judgment and overreaction on the part of the officer. If such evidence exists a conviction on a murder charge or a lesser criminal offense is possible. Whether there is or not, the former officer might plead to a lesser charge, which will bring more public outcry, but avoid a possibly messy trial and the resulting public response.
Whatever the outcome of the criminal proceedings, Ms. Guyger’s life is ruined. Whether she is convicted or not is to some degree a moot point. The only difference between a conviction and acquittal in a case such as this is how one serves his or her time. Conviction means prison time, but guilty or not guilty Guyger has nothing pleasant in her future. She faces being a pawn in a civil court battle that could include more public scrutiny, substantial legal bills, and other personal consequences beyond what one can easily imagine.1
1. For more on the consequences of using deadly force, check out: Option, Saga, Question
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