Attorneys for former North Charleston, South Carolina police officer Michael Slager are attempting to get their client entirely off the hook for his fatal shooting of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man whom Slager shot eight times in the back as he ran away.
As Slager is part of the just 2.6% of South Carolina police officers that the U.S. Department of Justice has decided to prosecute on federal civil rights charges, according to a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review investigation, and he is also being prosecuted by the South Carolina Attorney General's office (which is also relatively rare), Slager's lawyers are claiming that his Fifth Amendment protection from "double jeopardy"—being prosecuted twice for the same crime—is being violated.
"The double-teaming of Slager … is a chilling example of how far politically motivated politicians and prosecutors will go to seek headlines and feather their own nests at the expense of a public servant … who had to make a split-second life or death decision that will be second-guessed by comfortable armchair quarterbacks," his lawyers wrote in a court filing, according to the Charleston Post & Courier. "This is unconscionable."
However, this bid is a "long-shot," as the P&C put it, because this type of "double-teaming" is relatively common and protected by Supreme Court rulings. "Dual sovereignty" is the legal terminology for the situation, which allows for two separate sovereign states—in this case, the federal government and the South Carolina state government—to prosecute one person for the same crime.
Sam Stecklow is the Weekend Editor for Fusion.