When the cellphone video was released in 2015 of former North Charleston, S.C. police officer Michael Slager shooting an apparently unarmed man named Walter Scott, while Scott ran away from the officer after a routine traffic stop, the country reacted in horror. That Slager is white and Scott an African American only exacerbated the current simmering topic of race relations in this country as well as the national debate of how police officers use deadly force – which oftentimes ends with a dead black man. Slager was charged with murder in South Carolina and also indicted federally on civil rights charges and obstruction of justice for lying to a grand jury when he testified that Scott approached him with a Taser. Now, over a year later inside a South Carolina courtroom, the jury appears deadlocked with one holdout who refuses to convict the jury – and the nation wonders how could this happen?
What We Have Read in the Media is Not All the Evidence
First, the infamous cellphone video which shows Scott being shot from behind as he ran from the officer is not the only evidence in the case – even if it seems to make clear that Slager had no justification for shooting an unarmed man multiple times in the back as he ran away. Slager’s attorneys have argued that the shooting only occurred after a fleeing Scott first wrestled with the officer’s Taser in action not picked up on any videotape; not a particularly strong defense but the only defense which seemingly could exist under these circumstances.
Despite the seemingly damning evidence, the one holdout juror told the judge during an impasse in the deliberations that “I regret to say we may never reach a unanimous decision. We all struggle with the death of a man,” the juror wrote. “My heart does not want to have to tell the Scott family that the man who killed their son, brother and father is innocent. But with choices, I cannot and will not change my mind.” So why would this juror refuse to convict – refuse to even have an open mind during jury deliberations?
Juries Often Judge Law Enforcement By a More Lenient Standard
It is a fair assumption that many jurors give a defendant who is a law enforcement officer extra consideration before convicting. Understandably, much of society believes that police officers who risk their lives during the discharge of their duties deserve every possible benefit of the doubt during their trial: after all, the pressures and difficulties of the job can contribute to a mistake being made while confronting a potentially dangerous suspect. Simply put, some jurors will do all that they can to give a police officer more consideration than a typical criminal defendant would get when facing the same evidence and charges.
In addition, some jurors will take this concept even further and never convict a police officer of a crime such as murder as long as there exists even the thinnest of reeds of theoretical doubt. Law enforcement officers, goes the reasoning, should not be held accountable for breaking the law if they are being accused of harming someone who was in the midst of breaking the law themselves. In a high profile case such as this, jurors who side strongly with accused police officers are not easy to ferret out by the prosecution during jury selection because they want to be perceived as unbiased and fair so that they will be chosen to sit on the jury – where they will then do their all to prevent the officer’s conviction.
The best criminal defense attorneys in New York can sniff out jurors in high profile cases who are willing to perhaps have a more “open” mind when weighing seemingly damning evidence against their clients. And defense lawyers without a truly open mind may never see such gems in a jury pool – and this failure can be the difference between their clients walking free at the end of the trial or dying in prison after conviction. Call the experienced – and creative – New York criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of Jeffrey Lichtman to discuss your serious criminal case today.