Roberts Law Group, PLLC
North Carolina Criminal Defense Attorneys

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Question: Did Philando Castile Commit the Crime of 'Driving While Black'?

"The two occupants just look like people that were involved in a robbery. The driver looks more like one of our suspects, just because of the wide-set nose. I couldn't get a good look at the passenger."

- Officer Jeronimo Yanez

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There is no solid, definitive answer on this matter - at least not at the moment - but we can discuss the facts at hand. And the facts at hand indicate that Philando Castile, a 32-year-old black man from Minnesota, probably should not have been pulled over in the first place.

Officer Yanez did not shoot in cold blood.

It's fairly clear, based on the footage filmed by Philando Castile's girlfriend, which she live-streamed to Facebook, that Yanez panicked:

  • "I told him not to reach for it! I told him to get his hand open!"

These aren't the words, and this isn't the character (unless Yanez is a very good actor), of an officer who has shot someone in cold blood. This officer reacted to what he perceived to be a threat.

Officer Yanez saw three things: A robbery suspect, a black man, and a gun - and panicked.

Put another way, did Philando Castile present a credible threat to Officer Yanez, such that Yanez's use of deadly force was justified? Again, the likely answer here is no, unless "driving while black" is a serious felony crime - or a crime at all - which it isn't.

Philando Castile told Officer Yanez that he was carrying a gun, and had a conceal-carry license, but when he went to pull out his ID, Yanez opened fire.

This gets us to race and traffic stops based on pretext.

If anything, Philando Castile committed the crime of 'driving while black.'

Reports indicate that up to the time Philando Castile was shot and killed on July 6, 2016, he'd previously been pulled over by police no fewer than 50(!) times.

In this case:

  • Officer Yanez SAID he pulled Philando Castile over for a broken taillight
  • But he ALSO said that he thought Philando Castile looked like the suspect of a prior crime because of his "wide-set nose"

This, combined with the fact that Officer Yanez appears not to have made a proper felony stop (as you would for a robbery suspect), but rather a normal traffic stop, strongly indicates that Philando Castile probably should not have been pulled over in the first place.

Philando Castile does have a long "rap sheet" of 30+ misdemeanors, but they're for minor traffic violations and parking offenses like driving without a seat belt and not having an insurance card - no serious felony crimes.

If you were the prosecutor, what would you do?

Right now, Hennepin County prosecutors are looking into whether Officer Yanez should be charged with a crime. But the question is what kind of crime? Or should Officer Yanez get immunity?

All in all, it's not clear that Officer Yanez deserves charges for first-degree murder, but it's also certainly not clear that he should be able to completely hide behind the badge.

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