Some legal observers were surprised by Friday's light sentence given to a former Minnesota police officer who was accused of killing Daunte Wayne Wright, a black motorist aged 20 years.
Hennepin County Judge Regina Chu imposed a two year sentence to Kim Potter, former Brooklyn Center Police Officer. This punishment was well below the 86 months requested by prosecutors.
Chu was much closer to the defense request for probation. Chu claimed that Potter did not intend to fatally shoot Wright and erroneously grabbed her Taser as her service weapon.
Sara Azari, a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer, described Potter's sentence as "a slap on your wrist" and "a spit in the face” of the Wright family.
She explained the circumstances supporting a lighter sentence for Potter, 49.
Azari stated that when you have an unusual case such as this -- in which there is a senseless loss of life but also tremendous mitigating circumstances for defendants -- that justifies a departure from the guideline range to basically guarantee fair sentences. This was a very difficult position for the judge.
Although she called the case "tragic", Candace McCoy is a professor of criminal Justice at John Jay College. She also works at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. She said that Chu's decision in this particular case was within the law's discretion. She said that judges may change a presumed sentence if they state on record the reasons why and these reasons are well explained.
"I believe that the judge did that in this instance. She said that Daunte Wright and her family don't agree with her reasoning. "The guidelines state that a judge can lower his sentence if he or she gives clear reasons. The reasons given by the judges here are reasonable."
Chu's seat on the bench is elected. Danny Cevallos, NBC News legal analyst, said that he believed Chu would be more supportive of the prosecutors based upon voter accountability.
Cevallos stated, however, that Chu was correct.
He said, "I was shocked at 24 months." "I would have guessed maybe three years."
Cevallos called this case a statistical anomaly.
"This is a case in one-in-a million. People often ask me what this case means. People often ask me, "What does this case mean?". My answer is always, "Nothing." He said. "Unless you can find statistics of cops intending to draw their Taser or draw their firearm, that's not possible. However, it's unlikely that this number exceeds two to three per year. Maybe it's zero. It doesn't have any social significance.
Ayesha Bell Haraway, an associate professor of law at Case Western Reserve University, and co-director for its Social Justice Institute, stated that Chu missed an opportunity to convey her opinion about police use-of force habits.
Innocent defendants at risk of repeating their crime would be best served in prison, Potter's lawyers stated.
"That's not all that deterrence is about. Hardaway stated that deterrence also serves to send a message of caution to would-be criminals.
"Really, the sentencing does not send a message for would-be offenders. It doesn't matter if they are similar to Potter as officers, former officers, or other individuals who engage reckless conduct mistakenly and that accidentally leads directly to the death or injury of another." This judge missed a huge opportunity or misunderstood, I believe.
Wright's lawyer was especially upset by Potter's sentence compared to the 57 monthpunishment for Mohamed Noor, a Somali-immigrant police officer. Noor was convicted of shooting a 911 caller who mistook her for a threat to him.
Peter Wold, Noor's appellate attorney, stated that he supported Chu's handling Potter's case but sympathized with the Wright family.
Although he did not say that race played any role in the sentencing of his Black client as compared to Potter's punishment, he said: "It doesn't look good."
Wold stated that Mohamed Noor was in a completely different set of facts and had shot a blonde unarmed woman.