Judge Considers Gun Permit Issue in Yanez Trial

May 30, 2017 11:56 PM

On the first day of the trial involving St. Anthony Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez, a pool of 50 prospective jurors received questionnaires.

The panel included more men than women, and a handful of people of color.  One was immediately dismissed because she was related to Officer Yanez.  The remaining 49 were given a handout 14 pages long that contained 60 questions. 

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It asked about their opinions of law enforcement, whether they have been a victim, witness or suspect to a crime, about their thoughts on gun ownership, whether they watch the news or read the newspaper, and about how much exposure they have had to the case of Philando Castile's death last July in Falcon Heights. 

Prospective jurors will return to the Ramsey County courtroom Wednesday to turn in their answers along with responses to more questions in person. 

RELATED: 50 Potential Jurors Called for Trial of Officer Accused of Shooting Castile

A motion was also filed Tuesday over whether Philando Castile's permit to carry can be mentioned during the trial.  A video posted on Facebook by Castile's girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, refers to Castile and a registered weapon.

"He's licensed to carry, he was trying to get out his license and wallet, he let the officer know he had a firearm," Reynolds said during the live feed.

But it's alleged that Castile never told the officer about the permit to carry until after the shots were fired, which raises a legal question, according to University of Minnesota criminal law professor Richard Frase.

"If nothing was said before the shots were fired one way or another, well then it would be legally irrelevant," Frase said. "If Castile is told to stop reaching into his pocket by the officer, and he keeps reaching into his pocket and has already said, 'I have a gun,' it's reasonable to assume he's about to pull the gun out."  

When referring to the questionnaire jurors had to answer, Frase said, "We want people to be well informed, but we also need them to base their decision on what they heard in court, not read somewhere. Otherwise, the jury is thinking, 'Well he had a gun,' and assume it's illegal, which would benefit the prosecution. Or the Yanez team would say, 'He's a good guy, he had a permit for the gun,' but we want to bring out that he lied to get the permit."

When Ramsey County Prosecutor John Choi announced the three charges of manslaughter and dangerous discharge of a weapon last November, he said Yanez acted unreasonably after watching the officer's squad car video.

"Mr. Castile calmly and in a non-threatening manner said, 'Sir, I do have to tell you I have a firearm on me," Choi said. 

Yanez's legal team of Earl Gray and Thomas Kelly insisted the deadly force was justified because he reacted to the presence of a gun, not a permit.  The defense attorneys also suggested Castile was high on marijuana and shouldn't have been in possession of a gun.  They referred to the application for a permit in Hennepin County which states that a person "must not be an unlawful user of any controlled substance."

Prosecutors don't dispute that marijuana was found in Castile's car, but they argued his girlfriend bought it earlier in the day and that they didn't smoke it in the car.  Prosecutors also say Castile was trying to comply with Yanez's orders to produce his driver's license when he was shot. 

The courtroom was packed for Tuesday's hearing.  Among those in the crowd supporting prosecutors was John Thompson, Castile's longtime friend who worked with him in St. Paul schools. 

"There's a smoke screen," Thompson said. "They're throwing a marijuana smoke screen in the courtroom. That's irrelevant to the fact that he murdered the cafeteria supervisor."

The judge is expected to decide Wednesday on whether to allow testimony on Castile's permit to carry. 

If Yanez is convicted on the three charges, he faces up to 20 years in jail.

Testimony is expected to begin next week.  

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Beth McDonough

Copyright 2017 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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