Former Philadelphia Police Officer Convicted of Voluntary Manslaughter. What is the difference between murder, voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter in Pennsylvania?
Our law firm defends individuals charged with a variety of crimes and offenses in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We often represent person charged with crimes where the alleged victim dies as the result of our client’s alleged unlawful conduct.
What is a homicide in Pennsylvania?
Homicide is defined as the unlawful killing of one person by another person. Within homicide there are subcategories including Murder (Title 18, Section 2502), Voluntary Manslaughter (Title 18, Section 2503), and Involuntary Manslaughter (See Title 18 Section 2504). Murder of the first degree is defined as the intentional killing of another person with premeditation and deliberation. It carries with it a mandatory life Murder of the second degree is a felony murder which is the killing (or death) of another person while in the commission of a felony crime, such as a robbery, burglary, or even arson (felony murder). Murder of the third degree is all other murders. Beneath murder, there are the lesser crimes of voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter.
Recently, Eric Ruch, Jr., a former Philadelphia police officer, was convicted of voluntary manslaughter (felony of the first degree). The former officer was also charged with murder of the third degree, but the Jury found him not guilty of that criminal charge. In addition, the former police officer was found guilty of possession of an instrument of crime which is a misdemeanor in Pennsylvania.
What is manslaughter?
Voluntary manslaughter is the intentional killing of another without lawful justification. Voluntary manslaughter is often referred to as imperfect self-defense (justification). It is where a person acts with the intent to kill another person because that person believes that their life is at risk or they are at risk of serious bodily injury.
Involuntary Manslaughter, unlike murder of the third degree and voluntary manslaughter isn’t a felony offense. Involuntary manslaughter is a misdemeanor of the first degree unless the victim is under the age of 12, where it is a felony of the second degree. A person is guilty of involuntary manslaughter when as a direct result of doing an unlawful act in a reckless or gross and negligent manner or doing a lawful act in a recklessly or grossly negligent manner he causes the death of another person.
What happened in the Officer Ruch case in Philadelphia? What could he receive as a possible sentence?
In this case, the former Philadelphia police officer Ruch was charged following an incident where he and his partner pursued the suspect who was allegedly involved in a homicide in Philadelphia. After the suspect’s car came to a stop, it is alleged that the suspect reached into his pocket and whereupon the officer fired his weapon and killed the suspect with a shot to the head.
Following the incident, however, no gun was found on the suspect, but only alleged heroin. Despite favorable testimony from fellow police officers, the Jury convicted him. The former police officer in this case not only faces the standard sentencing guidelines but the likely enhanced sentencing guidelines based on the fact that a deadly weapon (the gun) was used in the commission of this crime. The standard sentencing guidelines for manslaughter raise the standard range from 36-54 months to enhanced guidelines of 54-72 months, +/- 12 months. The Judge, therefore, can sentence in the standard range or 12-months above or below based on mitigation and aggravation evidence. The District Attorney’s office will likely present the widow of the victim in this case who will testify as to the impact for aggravation. The defense will present witnesses in mitigation and rely heavily on the officer’s lack of prior criminal history. The best-case scenario for this officer is a mitigated enhanced sentencing guidelines or 42-60 months of state incarceration.
It is unknown what the defense team was offered in terms of a plea deal, but it is likely that the officer was offered murder of the third degree with a standard mitigated sentencing range of 10-20 years of State incarceration.
Police Officer – Justification – When can a police officer use deadly force in Pennsylvania?
Justification was the major issue in this case as it was alleged that the police officer used deadly force without lawful justification or imperfect self defense. It is important to understand that in Pennsylvania there is a specific statute with regards to ability for a police officer to use force in making an arrest. In Pennsylvania, like New Jersey, a police officer is justified in using any force which he believes to be necessary to effect the arrest and of any force which he believes to be necessary to defend himself or another from bodily harm while making the arrest.
A police officer is justified using deadly force only when he believes that such force is necessary to prevent death or seriously bodily injury to himself or another person or when he believes both that
(1) force is necessary to prevent the arrest from being defeated by resistance or escape and
(2) the person to be arrested has committed or attempted a forcible felony or is attempting to escape and possess a deadly weapon or otherwise indicates that he will endanger human life or inflict seriously bodily injury unless arrested without delay.
Also keep in mind that a police officer who makes an arrest pursuant to an invalid search warrant or arrest warrant is justified using any force which he believes would have been justified if the warrant was valid unless he knows for a fact the warrant is invalid.
While a police officer is not given any more credibility than a private citizen, there is a different standard with regards to justification. A private citizen is also allowed to use deadly force, when necessary, but there is an additional exception. A private citizen is not permitted to use deadly force if he is able to retreat from the encounter unless it occurs in his home or place of business.
Can the former police officer appeal his criminal conviction for manslaughter in Philadelphia?
The officer has a right to appeal, but that appeal may not be very strong unless there is a cleared issue with regards to an error of law committed by the Judge or some issue with the Jury instructions. Regardless of the viability of the appeal, the defense will move in that direction given the result in this case.
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