Monday, June 11, 2007

Of Drunks, Sidearms, and Second Guessing Officers Up North: Reg. v. Ferguson.

It is reported by the Globe and Mail that Michael Ferguson, a former RCMP policeman from Pincher Creek, Alberta, is facing a mandatory four year sentence for manslaughter that is the subject of some interesting litigation that will determine whether there are any exemptions from Canada's mandatory sentencing scheme.

So I decided to do some looking because officer involved shootings are rarely prosecuted here in the lower 48, largely because we figure if you want to mix it up with an armed police officer you more or less own the consequences. Acting stupid can get you hurt.

According to the opinion in Reg. v. Ferguson, Varley, the decedent, was in a drunken and agitated condition, and had been taken into custody following a fight with Officer Ferguson while in the police cruiser and at the barracks. Varley tried to get past Officer Ferguson, and grabbed Ferguson's service sidearm and got it out of the holster. Ferguson fired two shots, killing the decedent.

Charged with murder, Ferguson was convicted of manslaughter after a third trial because the jury figured that the second shot was not fired in self defense.

Alberta's prosecutors seem to subscribe to the "try, try again" until you get the result you want theory of prosecution.

Words fail me. What this decision has in store for our colleagues in Canada is unclear, but there seems to be a tendency there to second guess the man in the thick of things.

One thing's clear-had Varley gotten Ferguson's weapon, the consequences would have been grave indeed. I cannot imagine anything more dangerous to public safety than drunken, agitated criminals armed with pistols.


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