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by Peter Moskos

May 12, 2016

The Trial of Edward Nero

The second trial has begun. If you want to know my thoughts, best to see what I'm saying on Twitter. Mostly I'm just retweeting interesting points from, you know, actual professional reporters (like Kevin Rector, Justin Fenton, Mike Hellgren, and Robert Lang) who are at the trial, doing their job.

Overall, my opinion is well summarized by this quote in the Guardian:
“It was clearly a legal chase, stop, frisk, then search. And a reasonable arrest, even if it wasn’t legal (and it might have been legal),” said Peter Moskos, a former Baltimore police officer and professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “I can’t imagine a weaker case.”


Anonymous said...

“I can’t imagine a weaker case.”

This is beyond a weak case. I don't believe for a minute that this prosecution team isn't knowingly and intentionally prosecuting on a blatant lie. Mosby and every prosecutor who goes along with her should go to fucking jail.

bacchys said...

It's only "maybe" a legal arrest because the police are entitled to be ignorant of the laws they enforce.

The knife itself wasn't prohbited by the city ordinance against switchblades. IOW, it was legal for Gray to possess it.

Adam said...

I haven't much desire to go through all this again, but bacchys, you're oversimplifying the law. Cops are free to make *reasonable* mistakes of law. An officer cannot arrest someone for calling him a "pig" and then say, in his own defense, "Gee, I thought I could arrest people for that. Oh well, I'm entitled to be ignorant of the laws I enforce."

You argue that there is no ambiguity about this city ordinance and there's no reasonable way to conclude that it outlaws spring-assisted folding knifes (assuming that's what Gray had). The ordinance outlaws knives that have "an automatic spring for opening the blade." A spring-assisted folding knife has a spring that assists in opening the blade. I don't know what the hell the phrase "automatic spring" means. Whether you activate the spring by pressing a button or pressing ever-so-slightly on a thumb stud, I don't see a practical difference. You and I can argue till we're blue in the face about the right reading of the statute, but if this is even debatable, the arrest was lawful.

And at the end of the day, it doesn't even matter. The State has abandoned the legal-knife theory and is proceeding on the even more ludicrous theory that handcuffing Gray during a (legitimate!) Terry stop amounted to a false arrest. The State has so clearly discarded their original theory that Judge Williams isn't even allowing them to argue that the knife was legal in Nero's case. See here here, paragraph 4.

Anonymous said...

If we had access to BPD cases and court records I'd bet good money that arrests under that city code for spring assisted knives have been filed by the DA and made it past judges.

An officer cannot arrest someone for calling him a "pig" and then say, in his own defense, "Gee, I thought I could arrest people for that. Oh well, I'm entitled to be ignorant of the laws I enforce."

Exactly, and this is precisely what Mosby's team is doing with this prosecution of the initial officers. Wardlow was case law before Mosby even made it into law school.

Moskos said...

I assume the knife was illegal. If not, well, indeed, the ambiguity makes the arrest reasonable, given the issue of "automatic spring." But I assume the knife is illegal because A) the state (though they have gone back and forth) isn't making that claim right now. And B) they're keeping the knife out of public view and we still don't know exactly what kind of knife it is! Were it clearly legal, I'm pretty certain they would have bandied it about somehow. But indeed, the legality of the arrest depends on reasonableness and not the status of the knife.

Anonymous said...

I have seen plenty of people in Maryland arrested, tried and convicted under the state switchblade law for assisted-opening knives. That's not even getting into the local Baltimore law that I thought also prohibited them more specifically.

It's a silly law but it's exactly the sort of discretionary enforcement that the State's Attorney's Office was pushing officers to go for to try and suppress crime.