The conviction of former Minnesota police officer Kim Potter in the death of Daunte Wright was a "double injustice with dangerous implications for policing in America," especially considering the judge in the case denied her release on bail, Harvard Law professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz says in an opinion piece Friday.
"Officer Potter, a decorated policewoman with more than two decades of service, simply did not commit a crime," Dershowitz writes in his column, published in The Hill. "Under American law, honest mistakes are not crimes — even if they result in tragic deaths."
Potter, a former suburban Minneapolis police officer, said she confused her handgun for her Taser when she killed Wright during a traffic stop. She will be sentenced in February after a jury convicted her Thursday on two counts of manslaughter.
First-degree manslaughter, the most serious charge against Potter, carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.
"An elderly driver accidentally putting a foot on the gas instead of the brake and killing a child is not necessarily a crime," Dershowitz argued. "It becomes a crime only if the action was reckless, involving a conscious decision to engage in conduct which the defendant knows poses a high risk of serious injury or death."
But, he said, there is no evidence that Potter had consciously decided to fire her service weapon and not her Taser, and there was not sufficient evidence demonstrating her conscious decision to tase Wright was a criminal act.
"Wright had an outstanding warrant for an armed crime, and his conscious decision to resist arrest and get back in his car constituted a direct threat to the life of Potter’s fellow officer and others," said Dershowitz. "She was right to tase him, but she made a mistake by firing the wrong weapon."
He said that it was "even worse" that the judge denied Potter bail.
"There is a substantial likelihood that Potter’s conviction will be reversed by an appellate court," he said. "Potter is not a flight risk nor a danger to the community. The judge’s decision to throw her into prison seems lawless and calculated to appease the public lust for holding police accountable, even in cases where the fact and the law do not justify imprisonment."
Potter was sent to the state women's prison in Shakopee after the verdicts were announced, reports ABC News. State Department of Corrections spokesperson Nicholas Kimball, a spokesman with the state Department of Corrections, said in many high-profile cases, people are transferred directly to the state prison to await sentencing. Her hearing is in February.
Dershowitz also called Potter's conviction and imprisonment a "dangerous trend" for American law.
"Prior to the racial 'reckoning' that followed the unjustified killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in May 2020, a once-respected officer like Kim Potter would never have been charged with criminal conduct for her tragic mistake," said Dershowitz. "But the public demanded that she be charged. Indeed, some called for her to be accused of murder."
Elected prosecutors, he added, "often are more interested in pleasing the voters than in doing justice. This certainly seems to be the case here."
All should be concerned when a "decent police officer is indecently charged and convicted for making the kind of honest mistake that any person could make when confronted with the pressures of a life-or-death immediate decision," Dershowitz added.
He said he also fears police officers will be discouraged from the decision to take action to protect lives.
"Only rarely do police officers actually fire their guns or their tasers, but sometimes such action is necessary," said Dershowitz, and when taking action like that faced by Potter, "occasional honest mistakes are inevitable."
Potter should not only appeal her conviction and denial of bail, but police organizations should file briefs in her support, as should the American Civil Liberties Union, "which should be concerned about the misapplication of the criminal law to satisfy voters," said Dershowitz.
In addition, the appellate courts in Minnesota should review the record in the case, including the judge's instructions and the evidence, and the appeals court should reach a decision to release her on bail with a subsequent decision to reverse the conviction, said Dershowitz.
"Officer Potter is not a criminal," he concluded. "She did not commit a crime. She appeared devastated by her mistake, both at the time of the incident and when she testified in her own defense. Both justice and the rule of law require that she be set free."
© 2022 Newsmax. All rights reserved.