Gregory J. Wallance of USA Today Says Prosecutor Marilyn Mosby Better Win Case or She’ll Bring More Turmoil to Baltimore; Odds Are Against Her In Risky Police Charges

Prosecutor Marilyn Mosby announces criminal charges against six officers in the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore on May 1. (Photo: Alex Brandon, AP)
Prosecutor Marilyn Mosby announces criminal charges against six officers in the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore on May 1.
(Photo: Alex Brandon, AP)

What’s the only thing worse than failing to bring charges against police officers who commit acts of police brutality? The answer: bringing charges but losing the case at trial. If you don’t believe me, Google “Rodney King.”

Four white officers in Los Angeles were charged in the 1991 videotaped beating of King, a black motorist, kicking and hitting him 56 times with their batons. What looked like an open-and-shut case wasn’t and, in 1992, a state jury acquitted the officers (the jury was deadlocked on one of the 11 charges). The acquittal sparked outrage in inner city L.A., and the ensuing riots made what happened in Baltimore last month look like a picnic. The riots lasted five days, left more than 50 people dead and 2,000 injured, and damaged or destroyed over 1,000 buildings. The Department of Justice stepped in and later convicted two of the officers on federal civil rights violations, but it was too late to do L.A. any good.

And that’s why there is cause for concern that Baltimore prosecutor Marilyn Mosby moved too quickly to bring criminal charges against six officers in connection with the death of Freddie Gray, who suffered fatal spinal injuries while in police custody. The charges range from second-degree murder to involuntary manslaughter. Any prosecutor will tell you that if you are going to bring criminal charges against a law enforcement officer, you had better have your ducks in a row because there is no tougher case to win before a jury. Officers protect us from criminals and risk their lives to do so, as witness the death this week of New York City police officer Brian Moore, who was shot in the face by a suspect. For that reason, as stated by Cornell University law professor Steven Clymer, “Historically, most jurors have had a presumption in favor of the police officers. In most cases, jurors go into a case looking for reasons to convict. In police misconduct cases, they are searching for reasons to acquit.”

Already, issues are emerging in the Gray case that give cause for concern. Crucial to the prosecution’s case is the claim that the police had no probable cause to arrest Gray for possession of a knife with an automatic spring for opening and closing, i.e., a switchblade, as alleged in the arrest report. In fact, Mosby asserted publicly in her news conference announcing the charges that “the knife was not a switchblade.” This is a crucial issue because the prosecution’s case is much stronger if the officers had no grounds to arrest Gray in the first place. Otherwise, the defense can argue that they were only doing their job when Gray was put in the police van under restraints.

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Gregory J. Wallance

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