Why Police Shooting Trials Put Juries In A Bind


MICHEL MARTIN, HOST: Now we’re going to revisit a story that shocked many people. On Monday, the murder trial against former police officer Michael Slager ended in a mistrial when the jury reported it could not reach a unanimous verdict. The case drew national attention in part because of cellphone video footage showing Slager, who is white, shooting Walter Scott, an African-American man who was unarmed and was running away.

We wanted to know why so few of the recent cases involving police killings, particularly those involving unarmed black men, seem to result in convictions. So we turned to Seth Stoughton. He’s a law professor at the University of South Carolina. He previously served as a police officer in Florida. And I started our conversation by asking why the jury in this case seemed to have trouble coming to a conclusion.

SETH STOUGHTON: The prosecutor’s job is to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. We had really compelling video evidence, but the video picked up partway through the encounter between the officer and Mr. Scott. So the defense strategy was to emphasize the series of events that occurred at the very beginning and then before the video itself.

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