In previous posts, I have noted the Michael Slager case out of South Carolina. See, e.g., here. Slager is the North Charleston Police officer who was recorded shooting and killing a man named Walter Scott, who had been the subject of a traffic stop and who was seen running away from Slager. Slager argues that he shot in self-defense. Scott was African-American, Slager is white, and the case received extensive attention nationally. Today, a state trial court judge in South Carolina declared a mistrial in Slager’s case. CNN story here. On Friday, a single juror sent the judge a note saying that the juror “could not in good conscience” convict Slager. The jury was deadlocked through the weekend, culminating in today’s declaration of a mistrial. It is possible that multiple jurors became holdouts.
Two quick reactions. First, I think it likely–a virtual certainty–that South Carolina will retry Slager. Second, recall that Slager is also facing federal criminal charges, including depriving Scott of his civil rights and use of a firearm during a crime of violence. The United States is not seeking the death penalty.
I am often asked why, if the State is pursuing serious charges against someone, the Feds would essentially duplicate the charges and spend time and taxpayer money on an indictment, pre-trial proceedings, and trial. That problem becomes even more perplexing, on the surface, when the State case is a very strong one. The answer to that question consists of several factors, but the Slager case is Exhibit A as to why the Feds decide to move in a case like this: first, there is a substantial federal interest here with respect to the enforcement of laws against violating someone’s constitutional rights; and second, you just never know what will happen in the State case.
Until Slager is convicted in State court, the federal interest (which seems undeniable) remains unvindicated.