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The Trouble with Convicting a Police Officer

Posted on: January 9th, 2017 by Chicago Police Misconduct Attorney

Another police officer who has been accused of shooting an unarmed black man has walked away from court without a conviction.  On December 5th, a judge declared a mistrial in the shooting case of Walter Scott, allowing former police officer Michael Slager to return home.  While he is under house arrest and still awaits a federal trial beginning next year, this mistrial is raising tensions and questions yet again.

The number of police officers charged with murder or manslaughter has been on the rise. This can most certainly be attributed to the fact that video footage of such incidents is becoming increasingly easier to obtain.  Almost everyone has a video camera on their phone and can quickly capture any event unfolding.  In fact, between 2015 and 2016 there have been 30 officers charged with murder or manslaughter due to video evidence. Compared to the 48 officers charged between 2005 and 2014, that is a significant increase.

But why, if there is video evidence of these shootings, aren’t more police officers actually convicted?  Why, of the 78 police officers charged with murder or manslaughter since 2005, have there only been 27 convictions?  And why of those 27 convictions, has only one officer been convicted of murder?

There was alarming video evidence of Michael Slager shooting Walter Scott as he ran away, yet he was not convicted of murder.  Many legal experts agree that it’s very hard to convict an officer for a few reasons.  First, juries have a hard time blaming a police officer for shooting someone because they are aware that officers put their lives on the line every day to protect the public.  Because of this, people are hesitant to convict law enforcement of murder when the police officer states they were afraid for their safety or believed there was a threat of danger.

Secondly, police officers are often judged by a different set of standards.  Juries don’t look at these cases with a sense of hindsight but rather a sense of what would a reasonable officer have done at the scene?  Again, this makes it hard for any jury to second-guess an officer’s split-second decision to shoot someone.

A change needs to be made. We need to urge people to look past the badge and analyze the situation based on the facts and evidence – plain and simple. Our attorneys at Romanucci & Blandin are prepared to do just that and ensure that victims of police misconduct are not left without justice.