Rush to Judgment on Baltimore Indictments
Unless you have been living under a rock, you have heard the news that the Baltimore City State’s Attorney has charged six police officers involved in the arrest and custody of Freddie Gray with various crimes revolving around his death. These charges range from second degree “depraved heart” (one of those great common law legacies we have have in Maryland) to wrongful imprisonment. The Baltimore City State’s Attorney detailed the facts which came out of the investigation that she claims support her finding that there was probable cause that the charged crimes were committed.
The Freddie Gray case is unusual from some other high profile police involved deaths, such as the one in Ferguson. This isn’t a case of an officer using deadly force justified as self-defense. This wasn’t a death caused by the resistance of an arrest like the Eric Garner case in New York. In the Gray case, while there is plenty of facts to dispute, there is no question that Mr. Gray was in police custody and that no officer exercised lethal force in reaction to any action by Mr. Gray.
Some legal background in important. The indictments are charges. They represent the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s assertion that there is sufficient evidence to support a probable cause finding that the charged crimes occurred. It is not a statement of guilt and the defendant officers will have every opportunity not only to defend the charges substantively but even to dismiss the indictments if the evidence is truly insufficient to support them.
In Ferguson and in New York, similar determinations by grand juries or prosecutors determined that there was no probable cause to charge the police officers involved. That was not the case here. In no case was a prosecutor required to send the issue to a grand jury as prosecutors have the power to enter charges without a grand jury review. Having said that, I don’t think it can be seriously argued that a grand jury in the Baltimore City Circuit Court, hearing the evidence provided to the State’s Attorney, would have failed to indict.
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What is concerning is the knee jerk reaction by some, particularly on the conservative side, to assume that the indictments are unjustified or simply politically motivated. In an oligarchic city like Baltimore, there is no avoiding some incestuous connection between city officials and prominent legal figures or the police unions. While a conflict of interest is a fair issue to raise, it doesn’t change the facts. It would be a mistake for conservatives or anyone else to assume that the police in the Freddie Gray case acted properly when there is plenty of evidence to the contrary.
Just as in Missouri and New York, we should let the legal process play itself out before jumping to defend what very possibly may be indefensible. Much of the reporting about Mr. Gray’s “prior injuries” or self-inflicted injuries has either been debunked or is heavily disputed. While we must presume that the police defendants are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt to a moral certainty, relying on internet conspiracy theories to argue that the charges are baseless or simply brought for political reasons is a fast lane to beclown one’s self.
A lot of outside commentators have already fallen into this trap. Here is a great example of compound ignorance:
The Maryland state’s attorney has declared war on law enforcement.
— toddstarnes (@toddstarnes) May 1, 2015
First, there is no such thing as “the Maryland State’s Attorney”. Ms. Mosby represents Baltimore City. Interestingly, the Maryland Attorney General has shown a lack of courage by refusing to get involved. Even if the case is overcharged, the hyperbole that war has been declared on law enforcement, especially when some misfeasance by the officers involved is likely to be proved, is only counter-productive.
Bottom line, conservative knee jerk reactions to these indictments are ill-advised. Let’s allow the legal process to play out, criticize any lack of due process, acknowledge the presumption of innocence, view all the evidence critically and be open to the idea that there are no “white hats” in this case. It is also a mistake to lump this case in with what happened in Ferguson and New York. While the left may jump to do this, conservatives doing the same would be a mistake.