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Self-Taught Expert Allowed in Slager Trial

November 30th, 2016 · No Comments · Criminology and Investigations, Forensics

A mostly self-taught crime scene expert was certified in the trial of North Charleston officer Michael Slager. Slager is accused of shooting a motorist during a failed traffic stop. The expert is the final prosecution witness and was set to challenge the State Law Enforcement Division’s conclusions regarding the incident.

After a four hour hearing, the judge determined that the expert may testify in several fields, including computer technology, animation and crime-scene analysis. But the expert must limit his testimony about Slager’s Taser, a key element in the officer’s decision to shoot Scott and one of the most disputed pieces of evidence in the case.

One wonders why the prosecution chose an expert without formal training or certifications.  Nationally, there are dozens of experts with sterling credentials. Why take the chance? This is an essential witness. Should the testimony help produce a conviction, it is readymade for an appeal.

Even the judge worried about the possibility when allowing the expert.

Background

Slager executed a daytime traffic stop for a non-functioning brake light. Walter Scott, 50, was driving the car. During the stop, Scott exited his vehicle and fled. A chase ensued. The two were involved in a physical altercation. Scott fled again and was shot in the back and killed.

In his radio call, Slager claimed that Scott had taken the officer’s Taser. However, cell phone video of the shooting surfaced after the incident and called into question the officer’s account of events.

Expert Qualifications 

The prosecution claimed to have been offering an expert in forensic video stabilization, enhancement and recreation to piece together the various videos and create a timeline of events. However, the defense challenged the scope of the witness testimony. Given its breadth, the witness was questioned as to expertise in computer technology, crime scene analysis and recreation, video syncing, animation and timeline.

The expert admitted to a lack of formal education or training, but remained adamant that his years of experience and self-training were sufficient.

The defense went on to challenge the expert based upon his testimony in a previous case. On appeal, the state supreme court overturned the lower court’s ruling. The expert had testified as an expert in automobile cruise-control systems and the court held that the expert was not qualified to do so.

Testimony Limited

Despite his reservations, the judge allowed the expert to testify about the crime scene and analysis, but ruled out any testimony regarding the Taser.

The expert went on to provide his analysis and call into question elements of the investigation by the state.

Prosecution Error?

This is a case of national interest. Slager is facing federal charges as well as this state trial. The FBI, as well as state investigators have been involved. I wonder if using a self-taught expert was the prosecution’s best choice.

This expert spent more than 500 hours on developing his testimony in the case. All that preparation yet he will not be able to testify as to the key piece of evidence, the Taser. Any way I look at it, this seems to be a failure.

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