Legal experts say Amber Guyger guilty verdict signals major shift in how juries view police officers

Dallas Morning News

For some legal observers, there was only one word for the Amber Guyger guilty verdict on Tuesday: Stunning.

That’s because a police officer likely never even would have been charged just a few years ago, they said. 

The case was far from straightforward. And portions of Guyger’s tearful and regret-filled account of her shooting of Botham Jean last year put her in a positive light, some felt.

But not only did the jury give prosecutors the murder conviction they wanted — as opposed to a conviction on the lesser manslaughter charge — they did so after less than a full day of deliberations. Jurors convicted Guyger even after they were allowed to consider her Castle Doctrine defense, which allows Texas homeowners to stand their ground and shoot intruders.

“It’s a seismic shift,” said Aaron Wiley, a former state and federal prosecutor. “The Dallas that exists today is not the same Dallas that existed in 2004.”

Wiley said the jurors did something that juries in other U.S. cities have been hesitant or unwilling to do: convict a police officer of murder.

“At the end of the day, there is a healthy skepticism regarding law enforcement officials,” he said. “Who would have thought that Dallas would be at the forefront of the new civil rights movement? The epicenter is here.”

The Guyger murder conviction is the third one against a Dallas-area police officer in two years. Last year, Roy Oliver, a former Balch Springs officer, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for fatally shooting Jordan Edwards, an unarmed 15-year-old boy.

Also last year, Ken Johnson, a former Farmers Branch police officer, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for chasing down and killing 16-year-old Jose Cruz, who he caught breaking into his SUV.

And a a fourth officer, Michael Dunn, has been charged in the shooting death of Juan Moreno, 35, in June in a shopping center parking lot in northwest Dallas. Farmers Branch police placed Dunn on administrative leave after the incident.

Brian Poe, another former state and federal prosecutor, agreed that Dallas County juries are bucking the trend.

“Historically, first responders have been given deferential treatment,” he said. “We may be seeing a shift here where that’s not the case anymore… They’re not getting the pass like they used to.”

What surprised Poe more, however, was the fact that the Dallas County District Attorney’s office pursued the case even though its lead investigator, a Texas Ranger, believed Guyger acted reasonably when she shot Jean. State District Judge Tammy Kemp did not allow the jury to hear that particular testimony from David Armstrong, a sergeant.

When he was a state prosecutor, Poe said, the general guidance was not to bring a case if the lead detective didn’t think a crime was committed.

“I never wanted to go forward with something unless the investigator believed in the case,” Poe said.

Details and emotion

Derek Staub, a former Dallas County prosecutor who now defends people in state and federal court, said the prosecutors smartly focused on the small details of the case like the red doormat in front of Jean’s apartment.

“You have to look at them. It’ll make or break your case,” he said.

Assistant District Attorney Jason Hermus showed jurors the distinctive doormat and told them it was one of many clues Guyger missed that would have told her she was on the floor above her apartment. With their verdict, Staub said, the jury “clearly said this was not a mistake.”

Staub said prosecutors also did a great job “making this case come alive.” Jurors, he said, could almost picture themselves walking down the apartment building hall on that fateful night.

“The jury felt like they were there,” Staub said, and they said to themselves, ‘What would I do?'”

The fact that Guyger saw no weapons on Jean was key, he said. Guyger testified that all she saw was a body.

“That’s not enough to take out a weapon and shoot,” Staub said.

Staub said Guyger had to testify during her trial, even though it’s risky, in order to explain to jurors what was going on in her mind at the time. Typically, defense lawyers advise their clients not take the witness stand, he said.

“Without her testimony, the defense didn’t stand a chance,” he said.

Staub said Guyger performed well on the stand when she tearfully expressed sorrow and regret.

Wiley said Guyger uttered the right words during her testimony, such as the fact that she killed an innocent man. And she didn’t come across as evasive in her responses, he added. “Those were sympathetic words.” Wiley said. “I developed sympathy for her.”

But the prosecution team also used the emotional death of the victim in their presentation to the jury, Wiley said.

“The emotion carried the day,” he said.

The brief deliberations, Staub said, told him that all 12 jurors were “on board with guilty almost immediately.” The message for police officers, he said, is that “you are being scrutinized,” particularly in Dallas County.

Police officers will have second thoughts about pulling their gun and using it during an incident, Staub said. And that could mean the difference between a dead defendant and one who is still alive, he added. “I think times have changed,” he said.

Staub said there will be more arrests and convictions of police officers, but perhaps not in more conservative areas of North Texas like Collin and Rockwall counties where people are more deferential toward police. The Guyger defense team wisely tried to have the trial moved out of Dallas for that reason, he said. Had they been successful, the result might have been different, Staub added.

“It’s sad but true.”

‘Higher standard’

Poe said the issues of the use of deadly force was key in the trial.

The jury, he said, appeared to agree with prosecutors that Guyger should have used her training to avoid a violent confrontation with Jean on that September 2018 night.

“You have to think that they held her to a higher standard as a police officer, even though she’s off duty and thought she was in her home,” Poe said.

Using the Castle Doctrine as a defense was a “very novel idea,” Poe said. But jurors apparently agreed that it didn’t apply in this case. The law, he said, is for people who feel threatened in their home.

“It goes back to the question of, did she reasonably believe she had to use deadly force?” Poe said.

Wiley said he expected a hung jury. He said police body cameras, when the footage is available, have helped to hold police officers accountable for misconduct.

“We used to not need body cams,” he said. “If the police said it, it’s true.”

Wiley said he believes the failed government prosecution of Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, who is black, on corruption charges in 2017 was a “preview into the changing nature of Dallas County juries.”

“That case would have gone in another direction years before,” he said.

19 thoughts on “Legal experts say Amber Guyger guilty verdict signals major shift in how juries view police officers

  1. Let’s not get too excited about this until we hear how long she will be held for being a murdering pig

    But I am glad to see that these jurors got it right this time , wishing for a trend

  2. Hang that scum bag.
    I have grand jury duty tomorrow.
    By the time i answer that id never convict anyone of any “law” of for or by a criminal cartel in occupation and certainly any cop who made a statement or any word spoke by an attorney will be tossed out, im pretty sure they wont let me talk about jury nullification or how the U.S. Inc is a fraud.

    Then im going to renew my concealed carry permit in the same building as soon as im dismissed.

    and my work is going to pay for it. Lol

      1. All you need to do is move to a state (like mine, NH) that has Constitutional Carry, and you won’t even need to apply for any permit. No need to “wish”…

      2. I think asking permission and paying a tax is ludicrous.
        That said, i carry everyday most of the time. Its just a ticking time bomb before im charged in admiralty court and pay a bigger debt to my rulers. As well as get sucked into that matrix to which, despite my mouth, has been quiet.
        Guns are not cool nor an issue. They do stop sh!t fnckery well.

      3. I wish there were not 1400 infringements upon the 2nd Article to my Bill of Rights. I already have the authority and need not the corporate elite’s permission to exercise any of my rights to the full extent.
        Not dissing on you, Ed, until that handful of traitors is separated and dealt with, we each must adapt to the conditions we find ourselves in.
        Just so long as everyone understands we do not need a traitor’s permission to exercise an absolute right.

    1. I actually don’t let them in on who I am and what I think
      That way I’m almost sure to get on the Jury

      Than once I’m in
      The real enemy in me comes out

      Taint the jury? You dam betcha lol
      I came to fck y’all up and chew bubble gum
      And I’m fresh outa bubble gum

      1. ‘I actually don’t let them in on who I am and what I think
        That way I’m almost sure to get on the Jury’………… BAM! that is the tactic

        I sat on a jury once. I won’t bore you with the details but because of moi the guy was found not guilty. I would love to be called again.

        1. If you can still pull it off, this is a tactic that can be effective, but I have to believe by now they are vetting potential grand jurors in reference to their activity on the internet.

          1. I do believe that is the case here in Oregon for jury duty, but I cannot say for sure in reference to a grand jury.

          2. Probably Henry

            This is my only internet activity

            I have no FB
            I don’t tweet
            And I don’t have a channel on YT

            Just the Trenches
            So good luck doxxing my internet views
            I know Henry wouldn’t out me to the traitors

    2. As Hal Apeeno says, be the gray man. Blend in, act as though you know nothing, then make your move. Get on the jury, then hang ’em high.

      1. Replying to a comment above, Katie–in Texas (well, far west Texas anyway), you CAN be called for jury duty if not a registered voter. My hubby has NEVER registered to vote and he’s been called twice for petit jury and once for grand jury. He did not get put on a jury though. The “jury duty even if not registered to vote” think might be because there are so few people out here. The county I live in has about 1500 residents, about a third of which are children or folks 70 or older (and therefore are not picked for jury duty).

  3. Captain doughnut needs to send a message to the rest of her dirty dozen
    Hope we get to see more of this in the future

  4. Great comments.

    I have found that the dumber you act, the higher your chances are for being chosen for jury.

    Also have to say that their vetting process just oozes with seeking out those who are easily led. It’s a great opportunity to hone one’s acting skills, and in the process maybe (like Mary) save someone’s butt. Still, it’s not easy to go into an institution so geared to power and control. I guess I could look at it as a place to make me stronger, and to give me a keener eye.



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