In a little less than a month, the six officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray will be arraigned in Baltimore Circuit Court. There are a number of questions outstanding in this case –more will crop up as more details emerge – but some big ones have already developed.
Top among the questions: Will this case stay in Baltimore? “There was so much cheering and glee when these individuals were charged,” University of Baltimore School of Law professor Byron Warnken says, “I would argue to a judge that that shows that this community in this particular case are biased in favor of the prosecution, biased against the defendant.”
Attorneys for the officers have already filed a motion asking for a change of venue. It’s a complicated math, but a judge must decide whether the jury pool is too tainted here to ensure a fair trial. Warnken doesn’t think so. Neither does defense attorney Dwight Pettit. He says potential jurors will be asked whether they can make an unbiased decision, regardless of what they know about the case beforehand. And given the national media attention on the case, jurors outside of Baltimore may well have formed opinions themselves. He thinks it’s more of a political question than a legal one.
“Why should the citizens of Baltimore be deprived of the opportunity to rule on a case that took place in the Baltimore area? Why shouldn’t the case be judged by a jury of the peers of the defendant?” Pettit asks.
Regardless of where the case is tried, the next big question is whether the six officers will be tried together. Byron Warnken says that typically, defense attorneys prefer to separate out each trial.
“If I’m representing a client and there are five other clients, I actually have six enemies,” Warnken says. “I have to go against the prosecutor but I also have to go against these other five defense counsel who may be trying to push things in the direction of my client.”
That raises another question: Will one of the officers to roll over and testify against his or her fellow cops? If that happens, the cases will be severed. If not, the officers may find strength in numbers.
Former Baltimore prosecutor Debbie Hines says that could make it harder to prove guilt, because State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s office will have to rely largely on closed circuit and bystander videos that may not give a convincing story line.
“Without having one of the police officers testify against the others, the prosecution doesn’t have a witness who can say this is exactly what happened, this is what officer Goodson said, this is what officer whatever said. She doesn’t have that,” Hines says.
One officer, Caesar Goodson, faces the most serious charge, second degree depraved heart murder. He and the others also have been indicted on charges ranging from involuntary manslaughter to misconduct in office. Hines says the manslaughter charge that four of the six face isn’t that hard to prove. You don’t have to prove any intent to hurt the victim, just that the defendant’s actions led to someone’s death. The textbook case, she says, is that of a mother who leaves her baby in a car, and the baby dies.
“That is a situation where someone is in your safety, someone is in your care and oh my god you certainly didn’t intend to kill your child but the fact of the matter is people get prosecuted for those, people get convicted and it’s called involuntary manslaughter,” Hines says.
Defense attorneys have started filing a host of motions already –to get evidence, to suppress evidence, to dismiss the charges. Dwight Pettit says the best way to fight the charges is to win on motions filed before the trial even starts. “You throw everything against the wall -- and I would do the same if I was defense counsel -- and see what sticks,” he says.
Pettit cautions that there’s still a lot we don’t know. More information will likely come out after the state turns over its evidence to the defense attorneys. That is, unless Mosby wins her motion for a gag order on the trial.