Professors discuss high court order in Freddie Gray cases

Professors David Jaros and J. Amy Dillard were quoted in media reports about Tuesday’s ruling by the Maryland Court of Appeals in the tangled Freddie Gray cases. The state’s highest court ruled that Baltimore police Officer William Porter can be compelled to testify against the five other officers charged in connection with Gray’s death in police custody last April.

The ruling was a victory for prosecutors, who said Porter’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination would not be violated if he testified under a grant of limited immunity. Under that arrangement, Porter’s testimony in the other officers’ trials could not be used at his own retrial. Porter’s first trial, late last year, ended in a mistrial when jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict on any of the four charges against him.

The judges did not go into detail about their decision but are expected to issue a detailed ruling in the coming weeks, The Baltimore Sun reported.

In The Sun, Jaros said attorneys were awaiting the details with keen interest.

“What remains to be seen is whether or not this is a narrow victory that simply speaks to what can be done in the Freddie Gray cases, or if this is a new arrow in the quiver of prosecutors when they deal with co-defendant cases,” Jaros said. “I hope the answer is that the kind of unique circumstances here makes this OK in this instance, but shouldn’t and will not change how co-defendant cases are typically tried.”

Jaros was also quoted in a New York Times story about the Court of Appeals ruling, as well as in a Slate post titled “A New Ruling in the Freddie Gray Case Could Set a Dangerous Precedent in Criminal Law.”

Dillard spoke with Bloomberg Radio’s “Bloomberg Law” program about the court order and was also quoted by Dan Rodricks, host of The Sun’s “Roughly Speaking” podcast.

Rodricks sought Dillard’s thoughts about the gravity of the prosecution’s use of the words “lie” and “lied” during Porter’s trial; Rodricks also mentioned that, in a post-trial motion, Porter’s defense team cited several instances in which the state had called Porter a perjurer.

Said Dillard: “I think the Maryland rule about prosecutors not making public comments about the strength of a case and the veracity of witnesses often gets conflated with the role of prosecutor at trial. When a prosecutor confronts a [defense] witness with inconsistent statements, then the prosecutor can and should comment on the credibility of that witness to the jury in closing.

“Saying that a witness lied and calling a witness a liar is a thin line. I’ve seen prosecutors admonished by the trial judge about crossing that line, but I’ve never seen that kind of conduct as reversible error in a jury trial.”

Learn more about Professor Dillard and Professor Jaros.

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