The trial, conviction, and sentence of the Dallas policewoman who shot and killed a black man after accidentally returning home to the wrong apartment have attracted its fair share of criticism. One line of criticism, though, has been outright incorrect: Many police advocates and conservative media outlets have tried to claim that the officer had no “intent” to kill.
Their argument betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the difference between murder and manslaughter, especially in Texas, where the shooting occurred.
Policewoman Convicted of Murder, Sentenced to 10 Years
The incident has dominated news cycles for months, now, but the facts of the case are shockingly simple.
A policewoman in Dallas went home after a long shift. However, she mistakenly went into the wrong apartment. The door was ajar, but she went in, anyway. She saw someone inside, thought it was a burglar, pulled out her gun, and shot him dead.
A jury convicted her of murder, even though they had the option of convicting her for manslaughter or acquitting her, outright, under the theory of self-defense.
While prosecutors asked for 28 years in jail and the maximum sentence was 99 years, the jury decided that 10 years was enough.
The officer will be eligible for parole in five years.
People Claiming There Was “No Intent” to Kill Are Wrong
“Blue lives advocates” and other police supporters have been criticizing the case from the very start. In their eyes, the policewoman could not have committed murder because murder requires there to be “intent” and “premeditation.”
This line of argument has been picked up on fringe right-wing outlets as part of an apparent disinformation campaign.
Intent, Premeditation, Murder, and Manslaughter
The core problem with this argument is that it turns “intent” and “premeditation” into the same thing. They're not. As we've discussed earlier, they're so different from each other that the law has created entirely different crimes when one is present without the other.
Premeditation is something that takes time to form. To premeditate a murder, you have to consciously plan out how it will happen, giving yourself ample opportunity to decide not to go through with the killing.
Intent, on the other hand, can be formed in an instant. That instant can be the intentional pulling of the trigger of a police firearm, like in this case. It does not matter that there was regret, after the fact. It does not matter that the pulling of the trigger happened only after an unfortunate series of events and misunderstandings. All that matters is the answer to the question, “the instant before you shot him, did you want to pull the trigger, or not?”
Simply put, intent does not require premeditation.
In Texas, murder law is simple: Where there is intent, it is murder. Where there is something less than intent – like recklessness or criminal negligence – it is manslaughter.
Criminal Defense in Philadelphia: Joseph D. Lento
Joseph D. Lento is a criminal defense lawyer in Philadelphia who can represent you if you have been accused of a violent crime in the area. Contact him online or call his law office at (215) 535-5353.