What The Philandro Castile Case Teaches Us About The Need For Judicial Reform

On July 6, 2016, Philandro Castile was brutally shot and killed by police officer Jeronimo Yanez in a suburb of Minnesota. Castile was pulled over due to a broken tail light. Diamond Reynolds, Castile’s girlfriend, and her four-year-old daughter were in the car with him. When asked for his license and registration, Castile presented his proof of insurance first.

However, when it came time to produce his license, Castile informed Officer Yanez that he was licensed to carry a weapon and was currently carrying one. Officer Yanez affirmed that he had heard this statement, then subsequently placed his hand on the holster of his gun. He told Castile not to take the gun out. However, Castile, who still needed to present his license to the officer, found himself in an impossible situation, a situation that resulted in him being shot seven times.

Yanez was charged with three felonies: one count of second-degree manslaughter and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm. John Choi, the attorney who charged Yanez, stated, “I would submit that no reasonable officer knowing, seeing, and hearing what Officer Yanez did at the time would have used deadly force under these circumstances.” Despite this, Yanez was acquitted of all charged on June 16, 2017, one year and ten days after he took Castile’s life.

In the aftermath, the shooting was hotly debated, sparking calls from the Black Lives Matter movement for police reform. Issues such as race and abuse of police power were highlighted. Riots broke out and protests ran rampant. Upon news Yanez’s acquittal, this outrage gained a new life. However, in the midst of anger and protests, the acquittal of Officer Yanez highlights a new potential area of reform: judicial.

To better understand the ways in which the law must be changed, the relevant laws must be analyzed. Of such relevance is the fourth amendment, which prohibits unreasonable search and seizure. This wording lacks specificity; the word ‘unreasonable’ lacks clarity, leaving it up to the courts to decide what should be classified as such. A number of cases have addressed this confusion.

In Whren v. United States, the court held that any violation, even one as innocuous as a tail light, is ground to stop an individual who seems suspicious. This ruling led to much of modern day racial profiling. In Graham v. Connor, the court held that officers can use serious force whenever they reasonably fear for their safety. It could be said that this ruling, along with Tennessee v. Garner which held the same, helped foster protection for police violence as we know it. Furthermore, the Supreme Court has established doctrines that limit consequences for violating this amendment. As such, this allows for police officers to undermine the amendment. If there is no punishment for violating it, there is no reason to follow it.

With all of this in mind, it is easy to see how the judicial system has created an environment where the fourth amendment no longer serves to protect citizens, but serves to protect the law itself, via officers. Legislation regarding this amendment seems to solely relate to officer action rather than the protection of those being searched. This is unacceptable. The purpose of the amendment is to protect citizens from unreasonable search and seizure. Yet, instead, it serves to protect officers, even when they act illegally.

For the fourth amendment to function in an appropriate manner, there needs to be a judicial reform on the handling of the fourth amendment. Out of the 800 Supreme Court cases dealing with the fourth amendment, not one has discussed de-escalation. However, there is obviously a need to discuss these issues and rewrite the laws surrounding the amendment to protect the citizens before the police. It is only when judicial reform coincides with police reform that change will be possible, and tragedies, such as Philandro Castile’s death can be prevented.

Jordan Meyerl