The Tulsa County district attorney, Steve Kunzweiler, announced that officer Betty Shelby, who is white, was charged with first-degree manslaughter in the death of Terence Crutcher (40).
A decision to charge Shelby was made after reviewing police videos and witness statements. According to an affidavit filed in the charging paperwork, Shelby had said she was in fear of her life and was yelling for Crutcher to get on his knees because he was acting erratically. She was unable to say that she saw any weapons on his clothes although they were baggy or loose fitting.
Oklahoma Code section 21-711 defines Manslaughter in the First Degree in any of the following ways:
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- A homicide committed without a design to cause death while engaging in the commission of a misdemeanor
- A homicide committed without a design to effect death and in the heat of passion, but in a cruel and unusual manner, or by means of a dangerous weapon, or
- A homicide committed unnecessarily either while resisting an attempt by the deceased to commit a crime, or after such an attempt failed
Manslaughter in Oklahoma is Punishable for a minimum of 4 years up to life.The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals held in State v. Ceasar, 2010 OK CR 15, 237 P.3d 792, that any misdemeanor can be used as the underlying offense in a misdemeanor manslaughter charge. In Ceasar, the Court overruled the magistrate sustaining of a demurrer for first-degree manslaughter in the commission of a misdemeanor, where the predicate misdemeanor was for driving after revocation of a driver’s license. The Court held that because 21 O.S. 2001, § 711(1) “does not distinguish among the type or category of a misdemeanor which can be used as the underlying offense in a misdemeanor manslaughter charge,” any misdemeanor would satisfy the initial step in charging misdemeanor manslaughter. 2010 OK CR 15, ¶ 10, 237 P.3d at 794.
OUR FREE OPINION
The underlying misdemeanor, in this case, will likely be assault, however, as the statutes say, “any misdemeanor would satisfy” the manslaughter requirement. We do not find it hard to believe that the officer intended to inflict bodily harm upon Crutcher, she was clearly trying to shoot him. The issue in our minds is whether a reasonable person, under the circumstances, would believe that Officer Shelby feared for her life or great bodily harm. The videos can be misleading because they do not capture the intense emotions or other salient facts that often attach to such incidents. That having been said, it would appear to be an uphill battle for her criminal defense lawyer.
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