Could Baltimore Officer Mistrial Help Movement For Police Accountability?


Some analysts say the mistrial in the first of six cases against Baltimore police officers over the death of Freddie Gray was a positive moment for the justice system and police accountability. “The public learned a great deal about what happened to … Gray, and about how police responded,” says law Prof. Douglas Colbert of the University of Maryland, who attended every day of the trial. “That’s going to serve the cause of justice well for future prosecutions.” The Christian Science Monitor says protests quickly spread across Baltimore last night. Lawyers are expected to meet today with Judge Barry Williams to discuss a retrial for officer William Porter.

Of the six officers charged, Porter faced some of the more severe charges: manslaughter, assault, reckless endangerment, and misconduct. Prosecutors may have wanted to use Porter's testimony against another officer, but Porter could invoke his Fifth Amendment right to not testify. The mistrial could make it more likely for prosecutors to pursue plea deals with some of the officers, and more likely for the officers to reject those deals and take their chances in court. “One cannot help but think that this might be an ominous sign for the prosecution,” says Daniel Medwed, a professor at Northeastern University law school. Porter’s case was especially hard to get a conviction because the case revolved around the fact that he didn’t do something. During the two-week trial, prosecutors argued that Porter's indifference made him criminally responsible for Gray's death. A. Dwight Pettit, a veteran Baltimore defense attorney, says he had never seen such an argument made in a criminal case in Maryland. “This is a tough case, when we talk about nonfeasance instead of malfeasance,” he says.

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