White Supremacist's Nazi Tattoos Can be Used as Trial Evidence

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MANHATTAN (CN) - A white supremacist serving 25 years in prison for nearly beating two Mexican immigrants to death failed to convince the 2nd Circuit that state prosecutors violated his civil rights by using photographs of his white supremacist tattoos as evidence at trial.

Christopher Slavin was convicted in 2001 of attempted murder, assault and aggravated harassment. On Sept. 17, 2000, Slavin and Ryan Wagner lured the two Mexican day laborers from a 7-11 on Long Island to an abandoned building, then "brutally attacked" the immigrants with a metal post-hole digger and a folding knife, according to court records.

After the Mexicans escaped and Slavin surrendered, the police photographed Slavin without his shirt and prosecutors used those photographs to obtain a grand jury indictment. Subsequent photos of the tattoos on Slavin's body, which the district attorney characterized as "symbols of white power and Nazi hatred," were used at trial.

A federal judge declined to grant Slavin habeas relief in January 2010, rejecting the man's arguments that prosecutors used his tattoos in violation of his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination. 

According to U.S. District Judge Joanna Seybert's ruling, the tattoos depicted an SS symbol, an American flag over a Nazi swastika, lightning bolts and various skinhead drawings. 

One tattoo depicted "a caricature of a Jewish man kneeling down with his hand raised at the approach of a skinhead with a sinister, clown-like visage, holding an ax." Others showed "a skinhead holding a club and restraining a pit bull, a skinhead holding a flaming torch as he walks on human skeletal remains, a tank crushing human skulls, a Viking ship, and two Viking figures."

In a three-page unsigned order Monday, a three-judge appellate panel affirmed the lower court's ruling. 

"Even assuming that the prosecution's use of the tattoo evidence was testimonial in nature, however, '[t]he tattoo[s] ... w[ere] not compelled by the government,'" the judges, quoting from the 2nd Circuit's decision in U.S. v. Greer, a case they heard a month earlier. "We noted in Greer that even if officers were able to read the tattoos at issue 'only by applying physical force[,] ... it would ... not amount to compulsion for Fifth Amendment purposes.' To the contrary, "[t]he voluntary tattooing of an incriminating word" to a defendant's body plainly is 'not the product of government compulsion.'"

Slavin's co-conspirator, Wagner, is reportedly serving 15 years.