Russell Hebets Dec. 16, 2015

First Trial of 6 Cannot Return a Verdict

For anyone who has been living under a rock this year, the trial of the first of 6 officers charged with crimes relating to the death of Freddie Gray began this week.  Freddie Gray was riding in a police van and was in police custody in Baltimore when he broke his neck, later dying from those injuries. This afternoon, after approximately 2 days of deliberation, the jury in the first Freddie Gray case came back unable to reach an agreement.  Upon this declaration, the judge in the case declared a mistrial, and the case is functionally reset to square one.

Next Steps For The Prosecution

This case had been the first case set for trial at least partially because of the prosecutor's belief in the strength of the case against Officer Porter.  The hung jury in this case is certainly not welcome news to the prosecution who was hoping to build momentum from this case.  They now have the option of dismissing the charges, offering some plea agreement, or scheduling the case for a second trial.  It is very clear that the prosecutors are not going to let this case go, and it is unlikely that any plea agreement will be offered which had not already been offered and rejected by Officer Porter and his legal team.  The case is now docketed for Thursday morning where all signs point to a new trial setting in 2016.

How Will This Affect The Other Pending Cases?

Baltimore prosecutors are still scheduled for trials of 5 other officers over the next few months.  This case will likely have little to no effect on these other cases.  Each case involves different circumstances, and these cases will stand alone independently of the other cases.  The one area which has the potential to affect future cases is any testimony which was going to be sought from Officer Porter himself.  When testimony is requested from a citizen, that citizen has the right to invoke his or her 5th Amendment rights against self incrimination.  Because Officer Porter will be in a position where his statements could be used against him in a future trial, he will very likely refuse to testify, asserting his 5th amendment right.  While this could put the prosecution in a weaker position in subsequent cases, it is likely that they will have the testimony that they need to move forward with the prosecutions of the other officers.

While a hung jury on this case does not bode well for future convictions, there are some bright spots that the prosecution can take away from this trial.  They essentially now know exactly what Officer Porter will offer in his defense at a future trial.  They will also know exactly how witnesses surrounding this tragedy are likely to testify in their cases involving other officers.  Any weaknesses in their case which were revealed can be corrected moving forward.  Will this make a difference and will they obtain convictions for any of these officers?  Only time will tell.