Tampering with Evidence Makes You Guilty… of Tampering with Evidence, not Murder.
This is, for now, the final installment of the sad saga of Officer Slager’s shooting of poor Mr. Walter Scott.
People are talking about how Slager must be guilty because he apparently planted the Taser next to Scott’s body. The one that he probably thought Mr. Scott had grabbed out of his hand, but which in fact had flown out behind Slager and hit the dirt after Scott appeared to grab it.
It seems that Slager picked up the Taser and dropped it next to Scott’s body. Looks very bad. But remember what I said in my prior post about how Slager might have believed that if Scott had grabbed his Taser it might create an argument that Slager was shooting him because he thought Scott was a fleeing felon who was armed and dangerous.
I say might because it is not exactly an easy argument to make. However, that does not mean that his lawyer should just give up and not make the best argument he can for his client. That is the every decent criminal defense attorney’s job, like it or not.
Keeping in mind what I said about using the evidence (even bad evidence like Autopsy Reports) to work for you in some way to support your theory, ask yourself how on earth staging the Taser next to Scott’s body could possibly help support the “fleeing dangerous felon” defense.
Easy. It shows that Slager truly believed that if Scott had actually taken the Taser and run away with it he was justified in shooting Scott. I mean, why else place the gun next to the body? He obviously thought it would make the shooting look justified. Hence, if Scott really had grabbed the Taser and run away, or if Slager reasonably believed he had, then Slager clearly thought that shooting him would have been OK, whether or not it actually was OK.
How do we know Slager thought that? Because Slager planted the Taser next to Scott. Now do you begin to see how this all works?
People keep misunderstanding what I am trying to say about this case, and I don’t blame them for being confused. I’m confused too. It’s confusing. But, I am NOT saying that I believe Slager is innocent or did nothing wrong.
I am just saying that the presumption of innocence can only be overcome by either a guilty plea or a conviction following a fair and impartial trial where a unanimous jury has to decide whether that presumption of innocence has been overcome by proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
Their job, not mine. And not the pundits or the protestors or even anyone who is reading this.
For a good objective analysis of the use of force used here by Slager, from an intelligent Stanford guy (who else?) I recommend reading an article written by Clifton B. Parker in Stanford Lawyer, about the opinions of Stanford Law School professor David A. Sklansky, a former federal prosecutor, on the use of force by Slager. It’s a good review of the relevant law, even if it is from a former prosecutor.
Which brings me back to the point:
It’s the law, stupid, no disrespect. That is the whole point of our legal system. The fate of both victims and defendants is not supposed to come down to quickie opinions by puffed up pundits and ill informed random members of the public.
The idea is to create a framework that allows us to be as objective and neutral as possible, applying set legal principles to an endless variety of facts and circumstances and arriving at a result that takes every possible reasonable argument or interpretation of how those facts apply to those laws into account.
Not nearly as glamorous or dramatic as they make it look on TV. As I used to email to a friend of mine at 3 a.m, as I crunched out another late night brief while chugging espresso’s, my hair sticking straight up, wearing old sweats, “Hey, it aint’ Richard Gere in Armani!”
No, it’s lots of hard work and detail oriented analysis. Lots.
So, there can be a different take on the planting of the gun. One that not only does not lead to guilt, but which actually supports the defense theory. That simple. But apparently too complex for Slager’s first lawyer who just gave up and walked away. I feel sorry for his clients too.
The other side of the planting evidence coin is what we criminal defense attorneys like to call “Framing a Guilty Man.” If I’ve seen it once, I have seen it a million times.
Police know a suspect is guilty. And he is. Really, not just legally. The dude did it. But, there might be a problem with the evidence. So, they can’t resist helping the case along a little bit. They make sure that the dope is in the suspect’s pocket, not on the table in front of him, where he might be able to deny knowing it was there. They drop the bloody sock they find right in the middle of the carpet. They might even drop a gun next to the suspect. Whatever. They frame a guilty person.
Does that mean we don’t go after them for that, trying to use it to make our client’s look innocent? Of course not. When they tamper with the evidence they have to know we are going to do that. But, ultimately, it does not mean the person is innocent.
Same here, in reverse. Dropping the gun by Scott’s body not only does not make Slager guilty, it actually shows that he reasonably believed that if Slager was running away that he could shoot him because Slager believed Scott was a dangerous fleeing felon, armed with a potentially lethal Taser.
In reality that Taser had fallen behind Slager where he probably did not see it. But planting the gun still makes him look guilty.
One final off the wall note.
Back to my re-reading of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Last night I had made it to the part where Atticus Finch has to explain to Scout that he had no choice but to do his best to help the falsely accused African American defendant that everyone in town thought was guilty, especially the white racists, which was pretty much everyone except Atticus.
He said it perfectly as he spoke to his young daughter: “Well, all I can say is, when you and Jem are grown, maybe you’ll look back on this with some compassion and some feeling like I didn’t let you down. This case, Tom Robinson’s case, is something that goes to the essence of a man’s conscience — Scout, I couldn’t go to church and worship God if I didn’t try to help that man.”
Hallelujah, Brother Atticus. Hallelujah.
Slager’s first lawyer, the one who gave up and quit, might want to read that book.
Oh and on the very next page, Scout’s brother, Jem has to go read aloud to the old widow lady down the street whose flowers he trashed after she called Atticus nasty names for representing a guilty black man. The book he is reading? Ivanhoe. By Walter Scott.