By Brett Gillin
When Baltimore State Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced that the six officers involved in the Freddie Gray case had been charged with a range of crimes, two very different opinions on the decision arose. On one side, many of those participating in protests and decrying the actions of police raised a cheer, commending Mosby for her quick and decisive action taken against officers who they felt were in the wrong. On the other side, a cavalcade of attorneys, LEOs, and law professors questioned the decision, the speed at which it was made, and even the legality of the charges. While the final verdict as to which side will come out ‘victorious,’ it is becoming more clear by the day that the case against the six officers is far from the slam-dunk many thought it would be.
Noted defense attorney Alan Dershowitz, one of the most prominent scholars in the U.S. on constitutional law and criminal law, as well as a noted defender of civil liberties, wrote a piece for the Boston Globe, spelling out the litany of issues with Mosby’s decision and the ramifications it may bring to the case, and to relations in the city between authorities and an uneasy citizen base.
At the heart of his arguments is his assertion that Mosby’s decision to charge the officers may have had more to do with placating the increasingly-violent crowds gathered throughout the city than a true desire to provide justice. In fact, during the news conference that Mosby called to announce the charges, she specifically pointed out that she “heard your call for ‘no justice, no peace,” and was bringing these charges against the officers.
Dershowitz points out that no decision on charges should ever be made based on the desires of a violent mob. Charging six police officers with varying crimes simply to quell a riot may very well achieve that goal, but it does not, over the long term, provide the justice, guidance, and leadership that a State Attorney is charged with maintaining. In fact, as Dershowitz explains, it is a violation of the officers’ due process if that is indeed the case. Dershowitz stated, “crowd control is not a proper component of prosecutorial discretion and is inconsistent with due process.”
For example, if in the haste to announce these charges, some of the facts of the case had not come to light (or across Mosby’s desk), and later some of the charges are dropped against the officers, the once-violent mob may well resume the rioting and looting that plagued the city recently.
Page Croyder, a former deputy state’s attorney in Baltimore, claims that in the haste to charge these officers, Mosby has locked up two completely innocent people. In this article in the Baltimore Sun, Croyder explains that two arresting officers were arrested for “false imprisonment” based on the fact that the knife found on Freddie Gray was legal, meaning he couldn’t be arrested for carrying it. But the Police Task Force assigned to further investigate the case has found that the knife was illegal after all, rendering the “false imprisonment” charges null.
Had the State Attorney’s office taken the time to perform due diligence and waited for the facts of the case to materialize, there’s more than a chance that at least two officers would never have had charges levied against them. Croyder and Dershowitz aren’t alone in their questioning of Mosby’s handling of the case.
The Fraternal Order of Police called the charges an “egregious rush to judgement.” John Banzahf, a law professor at George Washington University, told reporters that he predicts the eventual dismissal of most (if not all) of the charges against the officers.
This begs the question: If the charges satisfied the unruly crowds enough to bring an end to the violence that engulfed the city, what would happen if those same charges don’t stick? In the crowd and prosecutor’s rush to judgement, they may have bungled the very justice they claim to be seeking.