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Noah Feldman

South Carolina Cop Deserves a Better Lawyer

The video of Officer Michael Slager shooting at Walter Scott is damning, but that's no reason for his attorney to quit.
For justice, we'll need lawyers.

For justice, we'll need lawyers.

Photographer: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

The correct ethical response to the video of Officer Michael Slager shooting Walter Scott in the back is to condemn the crime -- with one exception. The exception is Slager’s attorney, who has an ethical obligation as a lawyer to defend his client, not to abandon him or harm him by a public act of distancing. Yet in an interview with the Daily Beast, Slager’s lawyer did just that, dropping his client like a hot potato and strongly implying that Slager either had been set on a course of perjury or was simply too repulsive to represent.

Obviously, the overwhelming cause for outrage here is the apparent murder of an unarmed, fleeing black man by a police officer in North Charleston, South Carolina. But the whole point of having defense attorneys is that they’re especially necessary when the whole world considers their client immediately guilty. It’s therefore worth spending a moment examining what Slager's lawyer did and said -- and why it was an ethical mistake for him to act like any other ordinarily moral person.