“Danger, Will Robinson, danger!” is a catchphrase from the 1960s’ American television series Lost in Space. The Robot, acting as a surrogate guardian, says this to young Will Robinson when the boy is unaware of an impending threat… Consider the information below a similar warning of potential consequence.
The decision by South Carolina’s Ninth Judicial Circuit Solicitor, Scarlett Wilson, yesterday to charge Officer Michael Slager with murder in the shooting death of Walter Scott is the impetus for the alert.
Wilson presented only one charge, only one option, to the South Carolina grand jury; a charge of murder:
Within the indictment you can see the broad framework of the three elements needed to convict a person of Murder. They are: ¹) The unlawful killing of another human being, ²) with malice aforethought (ie. depraved heart); and ³) specific intent to kill.
While it might play well given the current tone and climate within media -and within the consuming public as a whole toward police officers- to charge murder, getting a conviction on that charge, and that charge alone, is an entirely different matter.
Scarlett Wilson has never charged a police officer with murder before. Hence, and with a great deal of contemplation, it becomes evident she also has never achieved a conviction of murder against a police officer.
The Walter Scott shooting, and any consequence of a non-conviction of Officer Slager, is dangerous in the extreme.
Think about what a low-information mob would do with an announcement of not guilty. We say think about the consequences, because it is entirely probable that will be the outcome if the only option to the jury is guilty of murder, or acquittal thereof.
Just looking at the surface facts, and ignoring for a moment the considerable research we have already conducted, it is easy to see a strong defense. The initial contact between Officer Slager and Walter Scott as evidenced in the Dash-Cam footage is innocuous at best. At no point does Slager reflect any behavior of concern; he is polite, courteous and professional.
Despite a rather sketchy story from Scott about ownership of the vehicle, and an inability to provide a registration, and the license plate not matching the vehicle, etc. Slager just begins a process of validation the same as he would with any other motorist.
Then Walter Scott takes off running from the vehicle, leaving his sketchy occupant, Pierre Fulton, sitting alone. Officer Slager takes off on foot after him, while calling for backup.
Moments later the dash-cam audio catches Slager shouting “Taser, taser, taser“; a warning for the first deployment of his Taser gun to halt Scott.
That is followed by a long period where Slager and Scott are in a physical struggle, a continued foot chase, and another physical struggle where both are seen rolling on the ground fighting over the Taser.
Everything between Walter Scott running, and the struggle visible when the cell phone video begins, is a felony in progress, actually numerous felonies.
Putting yourself in the position of Officer Slager, and considering current law as it pertains to LEO using deadly force when engaged with a fleeing felon, you begin to deconstruct the very first element of the indictment: “the unlawful killing“. This is where Tennessee v Garner comes in to play regarding allowable use of force.
Considering “malice aforethought“, when exactly can the prosecution prove that a polite, courteous and professional officer (moments prior to flight), turned into a depraved heart murderer? Can they argue ‘as a consequence of Walter Scott’s violence toward Slager’?
That approach will not work based on prior legal precedent where jurors are not permitted to apply the “common person” standard to police conduct. Jurors must consider what another LEO, and only another LEO, would do under the same or similar circumstance. The standard of contemplation for lawful behavior is different for a person who is acting within their jurisdiction of a law enforcement officer apprehending the lawless.
Considering “specific intent to kill“; if Slager was predisposed with intent – he could have shot Scott in any of the numerous moments during the chase and struggle. Arguably, if anything, the shot in the buttocks and the shot in the leg -like the deployment of the taser- reflect an attempt to ‘stop’, not kill.
But the jury will not have an option of considering lesser charges. They’ll have to find all three elements present beyond a reasonable doubt.
Perhaps the prosecutor, Scarlett Wilson, has something we are unaware of. Perhaps all of the elements are visible given information she possesses that has not been released. However, it’s quite apparent a reasonable defense for Officer Slager exists, and he has one of the best defense lawyers in the state representing him.
Ultimately the seemed weakness of a depraved heart murder case is ultimately what makes this case so dangerous.
You’ll also note how the case was broadcast 24/7 for the first two weeks of April, then poof – it disappeared from visibility until yesterday June 8, two months later. This too makes the case dangerous, because opinion(s) will be, heck, “ARE” already cemented. Imagine a mid-October trial and finding of “not guilty”. All of those who tuned out, because it disappeared, in early April will stand jaw agape…. and then guess what happens.
Danger, Will Robinson, danger.
You combine that possibility, with an almost greater probability the Baltimore Six will be acquitted easily based on the ridiculous construct of the Marilyn Mosby charges, and we have a seriously toxic media cycle.
Danger, Will Robinson, danger.
We are left to wonder, if, well, maybe, somehow, this is actually exactly what the destroyers of the judicial and justice system want to see happen.
Remember, when we discussed the strategy of winning by losing?
Danger, Will Robinson, DANGER !