MINNEAPOLIS — Twelve jurors are tasked with deciding if Kim Potter, a former Minnesota police officer, is guilty of first- and second-degree manslaughter in the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright earlier this year.

The panel must determine if prosecutors proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Potter “recklessly” handled her firearm and caused Wright’s death through her “culpable negligence” – charge elements that experts say leave much to jurors’ interpretation.

USA TODAY spoke to several lawyers who were present at the trial. They said that the jury will have to decide whether Potter was acting “consciously”. Prosecutors do not have to prove Potter’s intent to murder the Black 20-year old motorist.

“It boils down to — how does the jury apply that consciousness element in both of these charges,” said Rachel Moran, an associate law professor at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. “There’s probably going to be disagreement among those 12 people about what it means in this particular case.”

Who is on the Jury? A majority of the jury in Daunte’s murder trial is composed of white men

On April 11, Potter, a veteran Brooklyn Center police officer, and her trainee pulled Wright over and discovered he had an arrest warrant for a weapons violation and an order of protection against him. During the struggle to arrest Wright, Potter yelled “Taser” multiple times and fired one shot into Wright’s chest – an injury that was not survivable, the medical examiner testified.

Wright crashed into an approaching car after the shooting. Potter shouted that she “grabbed the wrong” gun, according to police body camera videos. “I’m going to go to prison,” she is heard saying.

Defense lawyers say that Potter mistaken her Taser firearm for her Taser and used deadly force to protect herself from Wright as they drove off. Wright was also accused of refusing to obey officers, which led to his death.

“Accidents may still be crimes”:The trial of Kim Potter (ex-cop) begins with jury deliberations. She is charged in Daunte’s death.

These are the facts about charges. 

What does reckless, culpable negligence mean?

To convict on the charge of first-degree manslaughter, prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Potter caused Wright’s death while committing a misdemeanor – reckless handling or use of a firearm “so as to endanger the safety of another with such force and violence that death or great bodily harm to any person was reasonably foreseeable.”

In instructing jurors Monday, Hennepin County District Court Judge Regina Chu said someone “acts recklessly if, under the totality of the circumstances, she commits a conscious or intentional act in connection with the handling or use of a firearm that creates a substantial or unjustifiable risk that she is aware of and disregards.”

Second-degree manslaughter is when prosecutors have to prove that Potter caused Wright’s untimely death by “culpable negligence.” This means she “created an unreasonable risk” and “conscientiously took a chance of causing Wright death or great bodily injury while possessing or using a firearm.

“Culpable negligence is intentional conduct that the defendant may not have intended to be harmful but that an ordinary and reasonably prudent person would recognize as involving a strong probability of injury to others,” Chu said.

“I’m so sorry!”Ex-cop Kim Potter describes ‘chaotic’ moment she shot Daunte Wright

Under Minnesota law, an officer’s use of deadly force is only justified in the line of duty on the three grounds, including when necessary to protect the officer or another from apparent death or great bodily harm.

“Whether the defendant’s apparent decision to use a Taser was reasonable or appropriate is not a defense to the charges in this case,” Chu told jurors.

“Was she conscious of what she did?”

Experts who have been following the case claim that there is much room for interpretation in the manslaughter allegations. Moran said the statutes are “poorly written” and “rely on a lot of outdated language.”

“Frankly, the jury instructions are somewhat confusing, especially for non-lawyers, so it’s hard to know how the jury will understand its charge,” Ted Sampsell-Jones, a professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, told USA TODAY. This adds to the uncertainty, in addition to all of the facts.

Mike Brandt is a Minneapolis defense lawyer who was following the trial closely. He called the instructions for the jury “particularly confusing.” Brandt said he believes the lynchpin of the case hangs on the jury’s understanding of the words conscious and intentional.

Is she conscious or intentional about what she did? The problem with that one is, if you break it down to those two words, I think that’s where the state is going to have some problems,” Brandt said.

The prosecution’s case, Moran said, is that Potter did act intentionally in the sense that she intentionally drew a weapon, pointed it at Wright and pulled the trigger.

“She didn’t intend for serious harm to result, but the state’s theory would be that any reasonable officer in her position would realize they’d drawn the wrong weapon,” Moran said.

‘I miss him a lot’:Daunte Wright’s father tells jury about his son in trial of ex-Minnesota police officer

Prosecutor Erin Eldridge stated that accidents can still constitute crimes, if they are the result of negligence or recklessness. Her definition of intentional acts is “some voluntary act and not reflex. It’s a decision you make about how to move or act in a particular way.

Earl Gray, defense attorney, argued that “a mistake does not constitute a crime.” Potter was not responsible for “recklessly and consciously handling a firearm” as she wasn’t aware she was carrying one.

Matthew Frank, the prosecutor, stated that Potter did not need to show the state she knew she was carrying a gun in order to be found guilty of the charges.

Kim Potter’s trial for sentencing

Maximum sentence for the first-degree charge of manslaughter is 15 years imprisonment and/or $30,000 in fine. A second-degree manslaughter charge carries a maximum sentence that can be served is 10 years in prison and/or $20,000 fine.

Minnesota judges however tend to use sentencing guidelines calling for less time. Minnesota prisoners spend on average two-thirds in prison while one-third are supervised released. 

Due to the aggravating factors, prosecutions are asking for a longer sentence. Prosecutors allege that Potter misused her position and caused a “greater than normal risk” to others nearby. They also include Wright’s driver, Wright and two other officers. The judge will address the aggravating circumstances.

Contributing to The Associated Press

“I tried screaming his name,”Girlfriend recalls moment Kim Potter shot Daunte Wright

The ‘worst day in my life’Daunte Wright’s mom testifies in manslaughter trial of ex-Minnesota officer Kim Potter

Source: USAToday.com

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