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by Peter Moskos

June 8, 2016

Legal summary of the Baltimore trials

This isn't new, it was just hard to figure out. And I wanted to add it to my Baltimore Primer .

What exactly was argued in the acquittal of Officer Nero was hard to figure out. Mostly because the State's Attorney, Mosby, has repeated changed her story. Initially she claimed the stop of Freddie Gray illegal and the arrest was illegal. But that wasn't true. There was clear reasonable suspicion for the stop, and the knife is probably illegal -- or at least a reasonable officer could believe so, as said by a court commissioner -- so the arrest was legal. (And no, despite what Mosby has argued, cops don't have to ask about the legal justification for a foot pursuit to join in.)

So what the prosecution tried to argue, which is really quite absurd, is that because of the length and style of the detention -- the time when Gray was already in handcuffs (as is standard after catching a fleeing suspect), at some point during the period between the legal stop and the subsequent arrest -- at some point the stop became an arrest before the knife was found. And at the point of arrest, the legal standard needed by police would rise from "reasonable suspicion" to "probably cause." So if an arrest happened before the knife was found, police officers would not have had probable cause for an arrest. This is an amazing, novel, and almost incomprehensible legal argument. And it rightly failed in the trial of Officer Nero.

The other issue that will come into play, especially in the Goodson trial, is denied medical care. It's not clear that this happened at a criminally negligent level. But even if there was no crime, at least the basic legal argument here makes sense.

1 comment:

Adam said...

For your next summary: the Sun's Kevin Rector published a good piece today addressing Donta Allen and how he fits into the story. His testimony seems crucial to the denial-of-medical-care theory of liability, but neither side wants to call him to the stand because he gave conflicting accounts. In his original statement to police "Allen said he thought there was 'a dope fiend' on the other side of the divider purposefully banging his head, four or five times. 'It was like — he wasn't doing it hard and [expletive], but he was definitely banging himself in the head. I know he was.'" This supports the defense medical experts' account, which was that Gray's injury was sudden and severe, would have immediately rendered him unable to move or speak, and therefore must have occurred during the last leg of the trip. The ME, on the other hand, concluded that the injury occurred between the 2nd and 4th stops. She had this to say about Donta's statement to police: "The reported kicking heard after the 4th stop would not have been possible; however, a seizure resulting from decreased oxygen supply to the brain may have caused the banging noise reportedly heard from Mr. Gray's compartment." Ultimately, I imagine Goodson's fate will come down to the battle of the medical experts. It will be interesting to see how Judge Williams interacts with the experts when they testify and what he makes of their findings.