Florida’s Only Officer Convicted of On-Duty Killing in 30 Years
September 18, 2022 Don Pumphrey, Jr. Criminal Defense, News & Announcements, Violent Crimes Social Share
In nearly 30 years, there has only been one police officer in Florida who has been convicted and sentenced due to an on-duty killing. A former Palm Beach Gardens officer, Nouman Raja, is currently serving a 25-year sentence after shooting and killing Corey Jones.
On October 18th, 2015, Raja was working on an auto burglary investigation when he noticed an SUV pulled over on the side of a 95 off-ramp. Corey Jones, 31, had been driving home from a nightclub where he was performing with his reggae band when his car stalled out. He phoned a tow truck company and was speaking with one of the employees when Raja pulled over next to him.
According to the prosecution, Raja was driving an unmarked van in the wrong direction of an off-ramp when he spotted Jones’ SUV. Raja pulled over and confronted Jones, but never identified himself as an officer. The officer’s supervisor testified saying that Raja was told to pull out a police vest if he approached a citizen, which he failed to do. He also never pulled out his police badge.
Prosecutors claimed that Raja acted in an aggressive manner, which could have made Jones believe he was about to be carjacked or killed. The recording from Jones’ phone conveys Jones on the phone with a tow truck when Raja approached.
The recording plays Raja asking if Jones is okay, to which he responds that he is. Raja replies twice saying, “Really?” to which Jones responds, “Yeah.” Then Raja starts to yell at Jones, ordering him to raise his hands. Jones tells Raja to hold on, but Raja just repeats his demand.
The prosecution believed that Jones pulled out his own gun and then tried to run away. Jones had a concealed weapons permit and was carrying his handgun at the time of the incident. The handgun was purchased a few days prior to protect the drum set he kept in his vehicle.
Jones attempted to run when Raja fired off three shots from his own gun. Jones ran and threw his gun, but then Raja shot his gun several more times. Jones was hit in each arm, and once in his heart.
Raja was unaware of the phone call Jones had been on with the tow truck company, which was still currently on the line. During trial, this was an important piece of information because Raja claimed that he addressed himself as an officer from the beginning of the encounter. Raja also claimed that Jones pointed his gun at the officer which forced him to fire his weapon in response.
Jones’s body was found 200 feet away from the vehicle, and the gun was 125 feet away from the vehicle, which indicated that Jones did in fact throw the gun while trying to run away.
Raja was charged with manslaughter by culpable negligence in 2016 by a grand jury, along with attempted first-degree murder with a firearm. In 2018, Raja’s defense attorney filed a motion to dismiss the charges by citing the State’s Stand Your Ground law, however, the motion was denied.
On March 7th, 2019, Raja was found guilty of manslaughter and attempted first-degree murder with a firearm. On April 25th, 2019, Raja was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
To read more about Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, read our blog post here.
Court Upholds Conviction
Raja was convicted in 2019 and sentenced to 25 years in prison. His attorneys tried to argue that being convicted of both manslaughter and attempted murder for the same person is considered double jeopardy, meaning his guilty verdict should be overturned. However, the judges sided with the prosecution and upheld the conviction in a unanimous 3-0 vote. The judges stated that manslaughter and attempted murder are not the same crime.
Dave Aronberg, the Palm Beach County State Attorney, said he was happy with the affirmed verdict. “The evidence was compelling and the trial was fair,” Aronberg said. “The family of Corey Jones achieved a measure of justice, as no one is above the law.”
Raja is serving his 25-year sentence in a North Florida prison.
What is Double Jeopardy?
Under the U.S. Constitution, the Double Jeopardy Clause was created to prohibit a defendant from being prosecuted twice for the same crime. The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution states, “No person shall…be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.”
Double jeopardy is governed by both the State and Federal provisions. The Double Jeopardy Clause has three goals it is meant to accomplish:
- Prohibiting prosecution and punishment for the same offense after an acquittal;
- Prohibiting prosecution and punishment for the same offense after a conviction; and
- Prohibiting multiple prosecutions and punishments for the same offense.
Double jeopardy prevents the prosecution or punishment of a greater offense after a criminal defendant is tried or convicted of a lesser-included offense. If the prosecution cannot convict the offender of the greater offense without convicting the lesser-included offense, double jeopardy will bar the prosecution for the lesser-included offense after the accused is convicted of the greater offense.
In this situation, manslaughter is a lesser-included offense of murder. Voluntary manslaughter refers to the unlawful killing of another without malice aforethought. Murder refers to the unlawful killing of another (voluntary manslaughter) with malice aforethought. Therefore, a defendant cannot be convicted of both murder and voluntary manslaughter. However, this case concerned an attempted murder charge, which requires different elements than murder.
Of the double jeopardy claim, the Court stated that the merger doctrine did not preclude both attempted murder and manslaughter from going to the jury because, under the Blockburger test, the two offenses did not have identical elements. Unlike manslaughter, attempted murder is missing the element of “death” that is essential to the crime of manslaughter. Neither crime is a lesser offense of the other.
To find out more about double jeopardy, read our page here. To read more about lesser-included offenses, read our blog post here.
Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida
If you or a loved one has been accused of a crime, it is important to seek out the legal advice of a skilled defense attorney. A criminal conviction can lead to expensive fines, imprisonment, and the stigma of holding a criminal record that can haunt you for the rest of your life. Working with an experienced defense attorney in Tallahassee is your best shot at building a strong defense to your case. Call us at Pumphrey Law Firm for a free consultation at (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message today.
Written by Karissa Key