Jury instructions provide clues in Yanez verdict

In addition to all the evidence, there were nine pages of instructions for the jury to consider in the trial of Officer Jeronimo Yanez.

The instructions—comprised of statutes, case law and a jury instruction guide—show why building an effective case against police officers can be challenging for prosecutors.

In the Yanez jury instructions, the definition of the second-degree manslaughter charge appears on page five: “whoever, by culpable negligence, whereby he creates an unreasonable risk and consciously takes the chance of causing death…to another person, causes the death of another…”

The next page offers a lengthy, roughly 80-word definition of “culpable negligence,” including that it is “negligence coupled with an element of recklessness.”

The statute and definition are typical for a second-degree manslaughter case, but what follow them are instructions unique to when the defendant is a police officer.

One paragraph explains that Minnesota law allows for “deadly force by a police officer in the line of duty…when necessary to protect the peace officer or another from apparent death…”

Another paragraph describes the “reasonableness of use of force,” and that “use of force must be judged from the perspective of an officer acting reasonably at the moment he is on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight. The reasonableness inquiry extends only to those facts known to the officer at the precise moment the officer acted with force.”

“That’s an instruction you must use whenever a police officer is being tried for an alleged crime they may have committed while on duty,” said Joe Tamburino, a criminal defense attorney not involved in the case. “Anytime you have a police officer using their weapon and they’re getting charged with it, going to trial, you have to have this type of instruction.”

The instruction to not apply 20/20 hindsight is a requirement based on a U.S. Supreme Court case called Graham v. Connor. Courts must apply it to cases involving shootings by officers.

“There’s a reason why this is the standard. Out of all the occupations in the United States, there are only two where you are required to put yourself in a violent situation many times with weapons. And that’s the military and law enforcement,” Tamburino said.

During the trial, experts testified to whether Yanez acted reasonably.

“You have two experts with all their years of experience, with all of their knowledge, and they can’t agree. If there’s no agreement with the experts, then the jury might have been saying, ‘if we can’t even agree on the experts, how can we say no reasonable police officer would have done that,’” Tamburino said.