More Lone Juror Ethics: The Slager Trial, Juries, And Justice


This was what I was afraid of. It is also why Michael Slager, who is guilty as hell, didn’t plead guilty despite slam-dunk, irrefutable evidence that he executed  African-American Walter Scott as he was fleeing arrest last year. It is why I argued that if Slager ethically cared more about the law, his profession, his community and his country than he did about literally getting away with murder, he was ethically obligated to plead guilty so this couldn’t and wouldn’t happen.

A single juror told the judge in the Slager trial last week that he can’t find the ex-cop guilty. In a letter to the court, the would-be Henry Fonda said, “I cannot in good conscience consider a guilty verdict…I cannot and will not change my mind.”

The jury foreperson confirmed  in a separate note  that it was only one juror who was “having issues” convicting Slager, who pulled over Scott’s car in North Charleston, South Carolina last year, and ended up shooting him in the back while a bystander recorded the killing on video. Circuit Judge Clifton Newman sent the jury back for more deliberation, and they are expected to report on their progress at 9 a.m. Monday.

The lone juror holding out for innocence against eleven wanting to convict is celebrated as a courageous and system-defining stand in “Twelve Angry Men,” but it strains our faith in the system when the facts are like they are in this case. Nonetheless, the possibility of a not guilty verdict in the supposedly open-and-shut case is essential to the integrity of our system’s principle that even the most obviously guilty deserve a competent defense and a trial before a jury of their peers. Either we believe, as it has been said by many, that it is better for 100 guilty defendants to go free than for a single innocent citizen to be convicted, then we have to respect and accept the result when a lone juror seems to violate common sense and law.

Is Slager “more guilty” than O.J.? I could argue that they both deserve punishment, but if one deserves it more than they other, I’d pick Simpson, who killed two people, and wasn’t attempting a lawful arrest. (I could also argue that this kind of shooting by a police officer deserves a harsher punishment, because of his profession and his duties to society.) However we feel, we cannot condemn the lone juror without endorsing summary justice and show trials. If we believe in fair trials, we must believe in not guilty verdicts when a defendant seem obviously guilty, and lone jurors who cannot be convinced of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Taking the other approach—emotion, anger and irrational hate—will be the likes of Elie Mystal, who, I think it is fair to say, needs a vacation. In an embarrassing post on the legal gossip site “Above the Law,” the African-American pundit intentionally misleads his readers by leaving out the key fact that it is only one juror who isn’t convinced by the overwhelming case against Slager, in order to indulge in an anti-white hate-fest:

Remember when I said that Dylann Roof, the alleged Charleston Church shooter, might get off because I wasn’t sure that you could find 12 people in South Carolina to say that killing black people is illegal? Remember when you thought I was being hyperbolic or joking or otherwise thinking too little of white people in America? A South Carolina jury said on Friday that it was deadlocked in the case of Michael Slager, the police officer who shot Walter Scott in the back while Scott was fleeing from a traffic stop.

You see, Mystal is a racist, straight up. One, single, eccentric juror about whose reasoning and motives we know nothing, is all it takes for the him to conclude that whites are incapable of convicting a white defendant of killing a black man. (Well, Mystal has revealed himself as an anti-white bigot before.) Mystal doesn’t even know the race of the lone juror. Never mind. He knows.

More from Elie…

Walter Scott was murdered. On video. In broad daylight. The only question is whether the murder of black people by police is illegal. The South Carolina jury cannot reach consensus on that point. White people cannot achieve broad-based agreement that the murder of black people is wrong.

This section is signature significance for a racist jerk. Mystal has no idea if the single juror involved doesn’t feel, and many do, that an officer should be able to shoot fleeing suspects, white or black, as the law once permitted them to do. He doesn’t know if the lone juror believes that this was a heat of passion killing, or even temporary insanity. Maybe he thinks that police officers face so many stressful encounters that when one makes a mistake, even a fatal one, he should not be convicted of a crime. There is no evidence whatsoever that either the victim’s race or the officer’s race was a factor in the incident. Never mind. Mystal assumes it.

He goes on…

The jury deadlock says way more about the state of white America than it does about the actions of Michel Slager. You debase yourselves if you let this man walk free. You get that, right? Letting cops who murder black people go free has nothing to do with the black community, and everything to do with the moral failure of white people in America.

More racism, bigotry, hate and bias. This juror doesn’t speak for me, represent me, or in any way stand for or represent whites, Americans, South Carolinians or jurors. If someone like, say, Donald Trump,was to talk as Mystal is about the Somali terrorist at Ohio State speaking for the “state of Muslim America,” he would be rightly condemned, and Mystal would be near the head of the mob, pitchfork in hand. Yet he spews this hateful garbage. America doesn’t debase itself if it lets Michael Slager walk free. It debases itself if it locks up Michael Slager without a fair trial, which means, and always means, and must mean, that a guilty man might walk free. This guy is writing for a legal news website? He doesn’t comprehend this cornerstone concept of the justice system!

Then Elie really melts down:

I already know who you are, I already know what you are, and I already know that my job is to avoid detection by your terrorist forces. #BlackLivesMatter, to me. I don’t give a flying f**k if they matter to you, because I already know they don’t. I already recognize your system of justice as a farce. I already hold your police in contempt. I already know how to hide in plain sight from the people who hunt me. Being unable to convict a cop who shot a fleeing man reflects on YOU. You are the ones who have to go to sleep at night, with new knowledge of how evil this country has always been.

All of this, because a single juror, for reasons unknown, has chosen to exercise his right to vote for the result the entire system exists to allow. In order for juries to protect due process and justice for the innocent, we must accept the inevitability of no justice for the guilty in some cases. It is a difficult concept, and understandable that the general public often has a hard time accepting it. For a legal writer to find it so incomprehensible, however, is absurd.

30 thoughts on “More Lone Juror Ethics: The Slager Trial, Juries, And Justice

  1. Wait… what?

    I thought in many instances a judge could direct a jury on verdict, essentially saying, there is NO WAY you can conclude anything other than such and such a verdict. Essentially making the jury a group aimed at determining a fair sentence…

      • At what point would it be possible to remove a juror for bias after deliberations and re-start? If the other jurors report bias during deliberations, would it be possible?

        During the Oregon standoff trial, one of the jurors holding out was removed; this was 11-1 to acquit instead of to convict though.

        • If a foreman or another juror determines that a member has lied during voir dire and is not considering the evidence, thus violating the juror’s oath, the judge can remove him as long as it isn’t too late in the process.

    • And I think Zoebrain gave a reason for it in the first post about the trial:

      The defendant or his legal team is betting on there being a high enough proportion of people who will always support the police, unconditionally, plus those who see removal of a black man who was no angel from society as being a positively good thing, so that the odds of a few being on the jury are high enough to take a gamble.

      Isn’t this the gamble that has led to a litigious society, clogging the courts, and clouding our legal system with cynicism?

    • Thinking the same thing, OB. Seems to me that having one juror vote ‘not guilty’ is not the same ting as the entire jury voting to acquit. Of course, if a mistrial is declared, it’s up to the prosecutor whether or not to re-try. No matter how that goes, I would venture to guess that Michael Slager is done as a cop, S.C. or anywhere else.

  2. I’m sure that Mystal realizes that there were 11 jurors who voted to find the cop guilty. I wonder how he deals with this inconvenient fact. Or does he even care about it.

    • Because he knows, whether he cares to admit it or not, that he probably isn’t going to find any place *better*. And if he did find it, I don’t think he would know what to do with himself there. He’d be right back to writing nasty little race-baiting essays the first time a white person stepped on his foot or neglected to hold the door for him or whatever.

    • Every time a republican threatens to take office, there are a slew of petulant whiners that threaten to move to Canada.

      Why Canada? I ask, I certainly don’t want America’s offal. Why not Mexico? Or Cuba? Those wonderful places where the locals are so friendly and the healthcare is so perfect?

      Because in reality, in comparison, the people who live there experience a lower standard of living on average than the people in America. In fact, you want to go to places that might actually score higher on any given quality-of-life metric and you invariably go to places like Canada, or the Nordic countries, all of which are whiter than America.

      This is one of those lies that liberals tell themselves, that there’s something shameful in the fruits of European colonialism… I won’t defend the actions of people who died before I was born, but I’ll give credit to the system they created, which gave rise to basically all of the most liberal and free nations on the planet.

      Were I religious, I’d pray on a daily basis that some of these… people… would get reincarnated as a woman in Saudi Arabia, just so they could truly feel what oppression feels like.

      • I claim that to support both equality and cultural relativism is irrational. You get to pick one, not both.

        You cite one of the good examples. I just modify it slightly… I tell those that espouse both that they should go advocate for gay rights in Saudi Arabia.

  3. This case illustrates why people are chanting “Black Lives Matter.” Yes, there are instances where the movement was too quick to condemn the police and it turned out that force was justified. No question. But that doesn’t change the fact that there is discrimination, harassment, and outright murder of Black people by the polices that happens for no other reason than their skin color. And, every single time, people who criticize these protesters state, “Where is the evidence?,” “Every incident needs to be judged in isolation, it is unfair to allege a widespread problem,” etc. So, then, a case like this comes along. A case that doesn’t depend on eye witness testimony but rather a video of an officer shooting a man in the back and then planting a gun on his victim. But still there is no conviction. This case should make every human being sick to their stomach.

    The State should retry this case again, again, and again until there is not a hung jury, damn the cost. It is the only outcome that is remotely palatable.

    • I agree with all of this, except that to assume the shooting is racially motivated is bigotry, Beth. Every time a black man robs a white one, we don’t call it a hate crime. “Where is the evidence?” is still an appropriate question, not about the shooting, which is murder, but regarding the assumption of racism. I can’t yield on that point, and you shouldn’t. An unarmed white man was gunned down in his doorway in Virginia by white police officers. If this can happen to both races, and it does, then it is wrong to assume racism.

      • I’m assuming that the lack of conviction is due to bigotry.

        Certain olice officers are bigots, and there are other police officers who are trigger happy regardless of skin color.

        • I think that’s a good guess, certainly. But we weren’t at the trial and didn’t see Slager testify. You have to admit, there are other non-racial reasons a lone juror could cite. “He’s a good man, he’s a public servant, he’s put his life on the line for citizens black and white, he lost it, and he’s suffered enough.”

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