After Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez fired upon Philando Castile during a traffic stop, fatally wounding Castile, video of the aftermath was immediately streaming to the internet. Many people were certain that the footage alone would be enough to convict Yanez of the second-degree manslaughter charges that were later filed against him. The recent “not guilty” verdict delivered by a jury that underwent extensive deliberations has therefore come as a quite a surprise to many Americans.
Looking into some of the key details of the trial could paint a clearer picture as to why the jury came to this verdict. Namely, the nine-page jury instruction that accompanied the trial’s evidence could have played a significant role.
How Jury Instructions Impacted the Yanez Trial
Few people serving on a jury have done so in the past, and fewer still have a total understanding of the laws pertinent to the trial they have been tasked to judge. Jury instructions try to simplify the process of coming to a verdict by informing the jury of all the statutes, laws, case laws, and regulations that have been deemed relevant and important to the case.
The lengthy jury instructions submitted in the Yanez trial took ample time to unmistakably define second-degree manslaughter, culpable negligence, the rights of a police officer in the line of duty, and the reasonableness of using force against a suspect. It is within these definitions that the defense of Yanez really starts to take shape. In particular, the instructions inform the jury to try to determine negligence based on the mindsets and occurrences at the time of the shooting, not based on what was known or experienced afterwards. This is the legal equivalent to asking the jury to step into the officer’s shoes during the moment of action.
Attorney Joseph Tamburino (not involved with the Yanez case) of Caplan & Tamburino Law Firm, P.A. in Minneapolis was recently interviewed by FOX9 for some insight into the content of jury instructions and how to use them. He further explained the importance of reviewing negligence in that moment and not with “20/20 hindsight” and how this standard was first upheld in the United States Supreme Court case of Graham v. Connor. Not only is this standard of application crucial but it is also mandatory. If a jury does not reach a verdict under this standard, it could be tantamount to a mistrial.
Experts were also called upon in the Yanez trial to determine if he was acting reasonably in that moment. With their testimonies, other evidence, and the jury instructions considered, it becomes somewhat clearer as to why the jury decided that Yanez was not guilty of second-degree manslaughter.
To request the legal assistance or representation of Minneapolis criminal law Attorney Tamburino, or speak to any of our other attorneys at Caplan & Tamburino Law Firm, you can contact us online or call 612.444.5020 to set up a free initial consultation.