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Mistaken robbery alert leads to tragedy

Although readers might understand or agree with the policy rationale that allows law enforcement officials to bear arms, it’s doubtful that today’s story will garner much sympathy.

According to reports, a Charlotte, North Carolina homeowner may have called the authorities about a potential burglar outside her door around 2:30 a.m. on a recent Saturday morning. When police arrived on the scene, one of the officers apparently felt threatened when the man started to approach. He fired a shot that proved to be fatal.

Unfortunately, the alert about a potential robbery in progress was inaccurate. The intruder turned out to be a 24-year-old former college football player who had gone to the woman’s door after surviving a car accident. Although the local police initially characterized the shooting as self-defense, the responsible officer has subsequently been charged with voluntary manslaughter.

Under North Carolina law, the charge of voluntary manslaughter describes a homicide committed without premeditation or malice. In many cases, the killing occurred due to negligence. Nevertheless, the charge is a felony crime that implicates potentially serious penalties.

A criminal defense attorney might agree that juries can be unpredictable in manslaughter trials. Some jurors may be sympathetic to an accident, even if caused by negligence. Although prosecutors may argue for the black letter of the law, an attorney might emphasize the accidental nature of a manslaughter charge in plea-bargaining or other negotiations. In this case, other potentially mitigating factors might include the late hour when the incident occurred, as well as whether the officer was following the self-defense training he received in police academy.

Source:, “Jonathan Ferrell Killed: Man Shot In North Carolina Was A Former FAMU Football Player,” Sept. 15, 2013

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