In Slager’s Defense
Within hours of the news being picked up by the media, a local attorney publicly announced his commitment to defend Michael Slager, the North Charleston police officer accused of murdering Walter Scott. It took this attorney even less time to abandon his client after the now infamous video was released seemingly contradicting Slager’s initial account and causing a public outcry. Regardless of your personal feelings toward Slager, he enjoys the same right as any other accused to effective counsel as provided by the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. The Sixth Amendment states “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.” There are limited exceptions found in Rule 1.16 of the South Carolina Rules of Appellate Practice prescribing the circumstances under which an attorney may terminate his or her representation of a client. Paragraph (b)(1) of the Rule provides “a lawyer may withdraw from representing a client if . . . withdrawal can be accomplished without material adverse effect on the interests of the client.” In response to terminating his representation with Slager, the attorney publicly stated “Today, I withdrew my representation of Michael Slager. This is a terrible tragedy that has impacted our community.” What are we as a jury of Slager’s peers to infer from this statement? The attorney’s immediate withdrawal as counsel seems to imply that either Slager’s actions are beyond defense or so repugnant to the attorney that he cannot in good faith provide effective representation. To further prejudice his client, the attorney provided a public interview conspicuously distancing himself from his client. In my opinion, the withdrawal and subsequent interview materially harmed Slager in the public opinion thus increasing the likelihood of his conviction or, at the very least, decreasing his chances of finding a “fair and impartial jury”. I believe this in turn will have a “material adverse effect on the interests of the client”. As a person I am outraged by the video showing a police officer shooting a man in the back regardless of the color of his skin. As an officer of the court, I am outraged by the attorney’s disservice to his client. Not only do these actions reflect poorly upon the practice of law, they are contrary to the “supreme law of the land”, an injustice to Slager, defendants everywhere and the judicial system as a whole.