(CN) – A federal judge on Monday granted a request from the attorneys of former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager for a statewide jury pool for his federal civil rights trial in the shooting death of a black motorist.
The order signed by U.S. District Judge David Norton is a blow to prosecutors who had asked that the jury be selected only from the Charleston and Beaufort areas.
Slager, whose trial on state murder charges in the death Walter Scott during a traffic stop in April 2015 ended in a mistrial, faces federal charges of deprivation of rights under the color of law, use of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime, and misleading investigators following the shooting.
Slager’s attorney, Andy Savage, has argued repeatedly as he prepares for the upcoming civil rights trial that extensive pretrial publicity about the case warranted reliance on a statewide jury pool to ensure the former police officer gets a fair trial.
Federal prosecutors pushed back at this assertion, arguing that there are sufficient safeguards in place in federal court to ensure Slager an impartial jury, and that reliance on a statewide pool of jurors would be overly burdensome and would unnecessarily increase the cost of the trial.
Further, wrote attorney Eric Klumb in a motion filed in January, “There is no evidence to suggest that the extent of publicity in the Charleston and Beaufort area exceeds that in the remaining areas of the state.”
Judge Norton’s order says jury selection for Slager’s federal trial will begin on May 9 in Columbia, South Carolina, and the trial will begin in Charleston the following week.
Slager is also scheduled to be retried on state murder charges beginning on August 28.
On Monday, shortly after Judge Norton granted his request for a statewide jury pool, attorney Savage filed a motion asking that the federal charges against his client be dismissed on the grounds that’s Slager’s prosecution in both state and federal court violated his rights under the Double Jeopardy, Due Process, and Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clauses of the United States Constitution.
“It is absolutely undisputed that all of these charges are based on precisely the same facts, the fatal shooting of Walter Scott on April 4, 2015, while Slager was attempting to place Walter Scott under arrest,” Savage wrote.
“Slager has been attempting to defend against two simultaneous prosecutions in two distinct courts for the same offense based on precisely the same facts. This burden is crushing, unfair, highly prejudicial, time consuming, and violative of the fundamental principle of due process, double jeopardy, and cruel and unusual punishment. The federal government and the state have benefited from joint prosecution and investigation,” the attorney continued. “The financial, emotional, physical, investigative, and other burdens are substantial. Most significantly, the sheer burden in terms of the time spent on defending dual prosecution is overwhelming.
“Ultimately, dual prosecution is absolutely unnecessary to the ends of justice and undermines the efficient administration of the criminal process. This is especially so where the dual prosecution is completely overlapping,
simultaneous, and involves precisely the same facts, as in the present case,” Savage wrote.