CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - A judge authorized an initial screening for former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager to determine whether he can be declared indigent.
Defendants who fall under this category, of not being able to afford an attorney, can seek money from the state for their defense.
In most cases only court-appoint attorneys have access to those funds.
That screening is the result of a private request from Slager's attorney, Andy Savage, asking the court to grant funding so evidence in the case can be independently analyzed through expert witnesses.
No specific amount was mentioned, but in order to receive the funding, Slager must be shown to be unable to pay for an attorney under certain requirements by the South Carolina Commission on Indigent Defense.
The criteria includes looking at income, debts, assets, a defendant's family situation and whether the family's total income is less than or equal to Poverty Guidelines.
Judge Clifton Newman allowed the screening process for such a status to begin through the Charleston County Public Defender's Office.
The results are expected to be sent to Judge Newman as soon as they are available.
Newman will have the authority to decide if the defense can seek state funding, stating it's a significant decision in the case, and could be a big impact for the future.
"Any action taken in this matter, certainly has some far reaching effects on the cases involving thousands of defendants statewide," Newman said.
Savage, whose law firm is representing Slager for free, said in prior pro bono cases, he's received funding from the SCCID, and this case should be no different.
"The Constitution of South Carolina requires equal protection under the law, so that somebody who does not have the funds cannot be limited in his defense on the basis of financial resources," he said in court Wednesday.
Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, the prosecutor in the case had few words to say about the funding for the defense.
"The housekeeping matters of how Mr. Slager's defense is funded, isn't up for me to decide," Wilson said. "As a public official I certainly want to see public funds being used wisely, but that's not my decision to make."
Savage also reiterated a request for a speedy trial. The judge said he would set a court date as soon as possible.
Slager's defense team hopes to have the trial begin as early as February.
Slager faces a murder charge in the April 4 shooting of motorist Walter Scott during a traffic stop. The evidence Slager's defense team is questioning involves DNA they want tested on Slager's Taser weapon.
Slager remains in the Charleston County Detention Center.