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Cops Get Away With Murder… Or Not (the Fleeing Felon Rule)

Cops Get Away with Murder - The Fleeing Felon Rule - Seattle Criminal Lawyer BlogFinally. A cop is being treated like any normal citizen.

Well, almost. It took a real live caught-in-the-act video to make this happen. The common thread in the so-called “expert” analysis is that if Officer Slager had not been caught on tape he never would have been charged.

I’m a bit frustrated that my last post got lost in the tech wilderness. I wrote it several days before this horrible incident happened in North Charleston. If it had posted before this shooting it would have looked like a prediction. But, then again, who wants to predict someone being killed?

However, I do have a prediction about this case that will probably surprise you.

As I said in my last blog, for those of us who have been talking to the “collective wall” that is our criminal justice system for years, trying to persuade everyone that there is such a thing as dirty cops, it is a relief to see so much misconduct being aired in public for all to see, thanks largely to cell phones.

I have been trying to explain to people for decades that, although there are plenty of good and honest police officers out there, there are also a fair share of bad, dishonest, lying, cheating, power tripping, dangerous, bad cops out there too. With guns and badges. And the power to lock people up, beat them silly for no good reason, take away their liberty, and, as we have seen recently, even take away their lives.

Therein lies the problem. They feel immune. Why? Because for years and years they have been getting away with things. Our criminal justice system has failed. Whatever they say, whatever they claim, whatever evidence they fabricate, prosecutors and judges have been turning a blind eye. I mean justice is supposed to be blind, but not that way. Justice is supposed to treat everyone equally.

But law enforcement are treated differently, more deferentially, with more bias in their favor, so they think they can do whatever they want. Snatch cell phones out of people’s hands, sit on people as they scream “I can’t breathe”, and shoot them just for running away.

Which brings me to the most important point, which will no doubt surprise everyone. That is because I prefer to actually look at evidence and think about how it might apply to the law, rather than jump to conclusions that may be wrong, unlike the parade of fools romping around on CNN et al the past few days masquerading as “experts.”

It’s too bad. Because this case has more angles than a Stanford Law School Final Exam, but the experts all seem to be missing them.

One moron on CNN last night (supposedly a criminal defense lawyer) said that the defense would obviously be that this was a crime of passion. I feel sorry for his clients. Hope they like prison.

I have a different take, not that I agree people should weigh in at this early stage. But I feel as if someone has to think clearly here, and since that is what I try to do on every case I can’t resist. I am willing to throw caution to the winds this time because I think someone has to.

I would like to make a prediction.

I predict that the defense in this case will hinge on two issues:

  1. Is it legal to shoot someone just for running away?
  2. Is a taser a lethal weapon?

If the answer to #1 is: “Yes, if the person would be able to inflict serious harm to others if not stopped” and the answer to #2 is “Yes, because tasers can kill people”, then the prosecution may have a problem. That would be because Officer Slader might not be guilty.

I can almost hear people gulping. Let me explain.

The fleeing felon rule used to be that you could shoot someone who had committed a felony and was clearly fleeing, without needing to show anything more than that. Then, in 1985, Justice Byron White, writing for the U.S. Supreme Court in Tennessee v. Garner said:

“A police officer may not seize an unarmed, non-dangerous suspect by shooting him dead… however….Where the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm, either to the officer or to others, it is not constitutionally unreasonable to prevent escape by using deadly force.”

That’s the law, folks. But why the second question, about tasers? They are potentially lethal weapons even though most people don’t know that. This brings us back to the evidence.

Unlike the “experts” on CNN, I know how to use fancy schmancy high tech tools.

Like the “pause button”. And “slow motion”. If you do too, then you will clearly be able to see that right before Mr. Scott runs away from Officer Slager, Scott bats something out of Slager’s hand.

You can then see a dark object fly out behind Slager and hit the ground. Plain as day. (By the way, slapping a taser out of the hand of a police officer who is acting legally – which arguably Slager was initially – is a felony.)

When Scott slapped Slager’s hand, the taser apparently flew out behind Slager where he could not immediately see it; Slager had the taser one second and the next it was gone and Scott was fleeing. Therefore, Slager can reasonably say that he believed that Scott had taken his taser and was running away with it.

Then the question becomes does that justify shooting him? Ask yourself this: What if he had batted away a loaded service revolver and Slager believed (mistakenly, but reasonably) that he was running away with an actual loaded gun? What then? Would shooting him have been justified then?

Personally, I have no idea. That is because I have not seen all of the evidence, have not interviewed a single witness, much less Officer Slager, and am basing my opinion only on one short snippet of video.

Apparently at least several minutes elapsed between the two videos that are being broadcast. That is a long time in “police arresting someone minutes”. An eternity in fact. Anything could have happened.

But just looking at what is already available I can see an issue with respect to the fleeing felon aspect of this.

I just don’t know why none of the “experts” can. They must be biased against cops.