How Confusing State Laws On Police Use Of Force Allow Cop Shootings


The police killing of Walter Scott in South Carolina looks like an open and shut case of murder, but South Carolina, like many states, has confusing laws on police use of deadly force that could provide officer Michael Slager with a defense, experts tell St. Louis Public Radio. Because of outdated and conflicting law, an officer sometimes can justify shooting an unarmed suspect who has fought with the officer and fled. In short, an officer sometimes can get away with what may look like murder on the video screen.

If Slager had killed Scott in Missouri, he could have claimed under Missouri law that he had to shoot the fleeing felon to arrest him. That's all that is required by Missouri's statute. South Carolina's laws are confusing enough that Slager might be able to make a similar argument there, experts say. Stephen Henderson of the University of Oklahoma College of Law likens the confusion in South Carolina to that in Missouri during the Ferguson grand jury last year. “South Carolina law is unclear,” he said. “So it’s at least possible the courts would follow the common law rule for justification of law enforcement (the same rule that governs by statute in Missouri). And if they did, the officer has a plausible defense to state criminal charges. … It is certainly no slam dunk, but the argument can be made.”

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