When passed, I-873 will remove the “malice” and “without good faith belief that the act was justified” elements of the current law. What I-873 does is make it possible for officers who wrongfully use deadly force to be held accountable and for justice to be served. What it does not do is make every officer-involved shooting a criminal act, nor does it vilify all police officers. I-873 will be one step in helping rebuild the working relationship between police and the community that has been so badly damaged in recent years. Passing this reform is critical to helping law enforcement do their jobs.
When making the decision to charge an officer, prosecutors must weigh the evidence against the possible foreseeable defenses and determine that a judge or jury would convict the defendant. Under the current use of force law, this means having sufficient and admissible evidence of both an officer’s bad intent and his or her lack of a good faith belief, and that the evidence against the officer is stronger than foreseeable defenses. As a former prosecutor, I know how difficult proving intent can be for a run of the mill defendant. When faced with proving bad intent for a police officer who is legally able to use deadly force in many situations, the task becomes functionally impossible—leading nearly all prosecutors to determine that they cannot even charge a police officer involved in a questionable shooting. I-873 would create a system in which an officer involved in a bad shoot could be brought before a court of law.
Adam Smith is the Congressman from Washington’s 9th District. To find out where to sign I-873, click here. In addition, a state commission that’s been looking into changing Washington’s police killing law will be having its final meeting this November. Check back on Slog for details.