Baltimore Burning

On April 12, 2015, police officers in Baltimore, Maryland arrested Freddie Gray; on that same day he sustained a catastrophic injury and fell into a coma. One week later, on April 19, 2015, he died from that injury. Protests began on the streets of Baltimore, and escalated into violent riots. A night of arson, looting and destruction ended in over 200 arrests, and many officers injured. The National Guard and State Troopers were called in to restore order; a mandatory curfew was enforced for the next six days. The Baltimore Orioles played to an empty Camden Yards for the first time out of concern for public safety. Slowly, calm was restored. But by the end of the week, 200 businesses had been destroyed, along with some homes, all in Baltimore’s poorest areas.

Cries of “No justice, no peace” were heard from the crowd that had gathered for the press conference of the Baltimore City District Attorney, Marilyn Mosby. On Friday, May 1, she announced the charges filed against the officers involved in the death of Mr. Gray. Mosby stated that she had heard the calls of “no justice, no peace,” and that she would work to “deliver justice on behalf of Freddie Gray.”

THE CHARGES

The severity and range of charges filed against the six officers involved were nothing short of stunning. The most serious charge is second-degree (depraved heart) murder, leveled against the officer who drove the van that transported Gray from the scene of his arrest to the police station. That officer was also charged with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree negligent assault, failure to render aid, and misconduct in office. The other officers were charged with a variety of crimes, including involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, misconduct in office, and false imprisonment.

THE CRITICISM

The charge of false imprisonment is predicated on the idea put forth by Mosby at the press conference that the arrest of Gray was “illegal;” if Gray’s arrest was illegal, then any detention–such as in the police van–could constitute false imprisonment. Specifically, Mosby detailed a timeline that began with the police officers’ approach to Gray, Gray’s attempt to flee from the officers, their pursuit and apprehension of Gray, their arrest of Gray, and the officers’ handling of Gray in the van. Mosby stated that (1) there was no probable cause for Gray’s arrest; (2) Gray had committed no crime; and (3) therefore the arrest was illegal. Furthermore, Mosby stated that “gross negligence” had occurred, and that the failure by the officers to secure Gray in the van by was a violation of policy.

Any lawyer should be feeling uncomfortable with the process playing out in Baltimore. Not only did Mosby choose to file the charges herself rather than convene a grand jury and seek an indictment, but she usurped the trial court’s role as fact-finder by making the above pronouncements. Making the determination of probable cause, the commission of a crime, and the legality of an arrest lies squarely within the jurisdiction of the court, as does a finding of gross negligence or a violation of police policy and procedure. A District Attorney may believe that these allegations will be proven, but until they are, cannot and should not present them as facts.

Doing so led to quick pushback by the police union. In a press conference later the same day, their representative characterized Mosby’s handling of the case as a “rush to judgment,” and repeated their request for her to recuse herself. (They had sent Mosby a letter asking her office to request a special prosecutor in light of her apparent conflict with the Gray family attorney due to his monetary donation to her campaign and his ties to her transition team after her election.)

WHERE THINGS GO FROM HERE

In addition to questioning whether the charges were politically motivated, many see legal problems stemming from a complicated timeline and an attempt to apportion legal culpability for a homicide among six defendants. With emotions running high and national media attention focused on the case, an impartial process will be difficult to achieve.

CONTACT YOUR ATTORNEY

If you have been charged with a crime, contact the criminal defense attorneys at Pak McRae Law, LLC.

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Pak & McRae Law

At Pak and McRae Law, LLC we provide straightforward, sincere criminal defense for local, state, and federal matters. Our team includes a former Assistant District Attorney, so we understand how prosecutors approach cases and will use those insights to benefit your case.

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