Professor David Jaros was quoted at length in The Atlantic in a June 6 article, “Can Prosecutors Convict Anyone at All in the Death of Freddie Gray?” The story is part of the magazine’s Next America: Criminal Justice project.
Reporter David Graham, who says Jaros brings a “nuanced perspective” to the case, devoted his article to Jaros’s thoughts on the trials of six Baltimore police officers charged in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray last spring.
On Monday, Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., the driver of the police van in which Gray is thought to have sustained a lethal spinal injury, opted for a bench trial before Circuit Judge Barry Williams. Goodson’s will be the third trial in the Gray case. The first trial, of Officer William Porter, ended in a hung jury and a mistrial late last year. Porter will be retried. Last month, Williams acquitted Officer Edward Nero of all charges; Nero also requested a bench trial.
Goodson faces the most serious charges of all the officers, including depraved-heart murder, three counts of manslaughter, second-degree assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment.
“I think both intuitively and legally the van’s driver would appear to have the greatest duty of care, but that by no means guarantees that he’s criminally liable in these cases,” Jaros said before going into detail about the depraved-heart murder charge:
“Officer Goodson is charged with depraved-heart murder in a case that on its face seems more like negligence, whereas depraved-heart murder says that the individuals showed such wanton and reckless disregard for human life that it amounts to malice. That is a very different mens rea that the commonwealth says is akin to intentional murder. The example I use in class for depraved-heart murder is that the students stand on the roof of the law school and throw cinderblocks off the edge into a crowd below. Where they’re not aiming for anyone specifically, they don’t have the intent to kill, but they’re perfectly fine with the possibility that they might crush someone’s skull. That’s depraved-heart murder. It’s a pretty significant step from that to failing to buckle someone into a van.”
Asked about the importance of whether the prosecution can prove that Goodson gave Gray a “rough ride,” Jaros responded:
“If you believe that there was a rough ride and the driver not only didn’t secure [Gray] but was attempting to cause him some physical injury by driving in an erratic manner or braking sharply, then it becomes more reasonable to think that those actions could amount to depraved heart murder. To me, it would be a big step in that direction if [Goodson] were in the process of giving [Gray] a rough ride, or at least deliberately trying to injure him with an understanding that there was a high probability that he’d be causing this guy’s death, and simply not caring. If he simply is not thinking about the risks to his passenger, and he’s simply callously doing his job transporting people whose welfare he frankly doesn’t give a lot of thought to, I’m not even sure that amounts to recklessness. It may just be negligence.”