MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – The former Minneapolis suburban policewoman who said she mistook her handgun for her Taser when she killed Daunte Wright will be sentenced in February after a jury found her guilty on Thursday of two counts of manslaughter.
The most serious charge against Kim Potter – first degree manslaughter – carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. Here’s how his conviction might go:
After approximately 27 hours of deliberation over four days, a jury found Potter guilty of both first degree manslaughter and second degree manslaughter in the April 11 murder of Wright, a black motorist. For first degree manslaughter, prosecutors had to prove that Potter caused Wright’s death by recklessly handling a firearm in a way that death or grievous bodily harm to any person was reasonably foreseeable.
The second degree manslaughter charge required prosecutors to prove that Potter caused his death “through culpable negligence,” meaning that Potter “caused unreasonable risk and consciously took the risk of causing death or serious bodily harm ”to Wright.
WHAT SENTENCE IS POSSIBLE?
Under Minnesota law, Potter, who is white, will only be convicted of the most serious charge of first degree manslaughter. This is because the two charges against her stem from a single act, with a single victim.
The maximum for this charge is 15 years. But state sentencing guidelines demand much less. For someone with no criminal history, like Potter, the guidelines range from just over six years to around 8.5 years, with the alleged sentence being just over seven years.
Prosecutors said they would seek a sentence beyond the set limit, while the defense said they would not seek jail time. For Judge Regina Chu to hand down a sentence that is outside the guidelines, she would first have to find mitigating or aggravating factors. Both parties are expected to file written arguments.
POSSIBLE AGGRAVATING FACTORS
Prosecutors say aggravating factors in Potter’s case include her causing greater than normal danger to the safety of other people when she pulled into the car, including danger to her colleagues officers, Wright’s passenger and the couple whose car was hit by Wright is after the shooting.
Wright’s passenger, Alayna Albrecht-Payton, told the court she was still suffering from the effects of the broken jaw she suffered in the crash after the shooting. And Denise Lundgren Wells, whose father was in the car Wright hit, said her father had health issues before the crash, but they accelerated after it happened. He is now 80 years old and in palliative care.
Prosecutors also said Potter abused his authority as a police officer.
POSSIBLE MITIGATION FACTORS
Defense attorney Paul Engh said the defense would seek to deviate from the sentencing guidelines.
Under state laws, a mitigated disposition deviation occurs when guidelines recommend jail time, but a judge allows the sentence to be “suspended” – meaning the defendant will not go to jail. Instead, the accused is put on probation, house arrest or possibly sent to the local jail, said Marsh Halberg, a Minneapolis lawyer unrelated to the case. An accused would be sent to jail if conditions set by the court are violated.
Arguing that Potter should remain on bail until she is sentenced, Engh said, “She is likely to be put to trial. His remorse and regret for the incident is overwhelming. She is not at all a danger to the public. She has made all of her appearances in court. Chu did not move and Potter was taken into custody after the verdicts were read.
Halberg said the defense had a long way to go, as Potter had no history and had remorse. The defense can also argue that as a police officer, Potter’s containment would likely be harder than most due to the need to protect her. Former Minneapolis police officer convicted of George Floyd’s death, Derek Chauvin, has been placed in solitary confinement for this reason.
WHAT TO DO AT CHU?
The Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines were created to establish consistent sentences that do not take into account factors such as race or gender.
In determining the final sentence, Chu will take into account the arguments put forward by both parties, as well as the victim impact statements. She also ordered a pre-sentence investigation into Potter. And Potter can make a statement at his sentencing hearing – a time when judges typically look to see if someone is taking responsibility for the crime or showing remorse.
Halberg said it was unlikely that Chu would condemn Potter below the guideline range, saying, “We now live in such a politicized climate for decisions.” He predicted that Chu would go above what the guidelines suggest, or doom her to the highest range.
“If you stay in the box as long as the sentences are reasonable, it’s a pretty hard thing to argue on appeal,” he said.
HOW LONG WILL POTTER SERVE?
Regardless of the sentence handed down to Potter, Minnesota, it is presumed that a well-behaved accused will serve two-thirds of their sentence in jail and the remainder on supervised release, commonly known as parole.
This means that if Potter is sentenced to the presumption of seven years, she will likely serve about four years and nine months behind bars, with the rest on probation. Once on supervised release, she could be returned to prison if she violates the conditions of her parole. If she gets the 15-year maximum, she could be behind bars for 10 years before being released on parole.
Potter was sent to Shakopee State Prison for Women after the jury returned their verdicts. Nicholas Kimball, spokesperson for the State Department of Corrections, said in some cases, especially those with more high profile, people are transferred directly to state prison pending sentencing.
The same thing happened for Chauvin. He went straight to the state’s maximum security prison as he awaited his murder conviction. He was ultimately sentenced to 22 and a half years – above the guideline range – after a judge found aggravating factors in Floyd’s death.
Find the full PA coverage of the Daunte Wright case: https://apnews.com/hub/death-of-daunte-wright