Legal expert Doug Colbert responds to the ruling made by Maryland’s highest court and says its unlikely for the Supreme Court to take up a defense appeal
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN: In what many say is a groundbreaking ruling and a huge win for the prosecution, Maryland’s highest court has ruled Officer William Porter must testify against all five officer co-defendants charged with the death of Freddie Gray; a killing that sparked an uprising in Baltimore and reverberated across the nation. The ruling came as no surprise to University of Maryland law professor Doug Colbert. DOUG COLBERT: Well, I was present during the argument, and I left the courthouse saying that I expected the Court of Appeals to rule as it did in favor of the prosecution, wanting to give immunity to Officer Porter so he could testify in all of the trials. What’s significant is that the defense did a good job of delaying the trials of intervening and breaking up the momentum of the prosecution moving to the next case. But in the end the prosecution needs witnesses to testify to crime, and they’re alleging that Officer Porter was a witness to the crime of killing Freddie Gray. And so they have the power to compel any of us to testify. NOOR: In two separate rulings, the Maryland Court of Appeals first reversed a lower court ruling that blocked Judge Barry Williams’ order compelling Porter to testify against fellow officers Alicia White and Cesar Goodson. Then it reversed Williams’ ruling that initially had denied a prosecution motion to have Porter also testify against the three other officers: Brian Rice, Edward Nero, and Garrett Miller. COLBERT: I think Officer Porter is one of the few officers who was present during most of the events involving Freddie Gray. And I cannot think of another officer who would be able to testify to what the three bikers, the three officers on bikes, did in apprehending and placing Freddie Gray on the police van. NOOR: The court rejected the defense arguments Porter would be liable to self-incrimination or perjury if he testified. COLBERT: Officer Porter’s privilege against self-incrimination is protected when the prosecution cannot use his testimony against himself at a future trial. That’s all that’s included with the privilege. This is where we begin to appreciate the code of silence. Police officers do not want to testify against other officers. Immunity is the only way that an officer will be compelled to offer evidence. And even then, you might find an officer that would stand on principle and say, I’m going to go to jail before I ever testify against someone else. NOOR: The ruling lifted a lower court’s hold on the trials, and sent all five cases back to the Circuit Court. Porter’s second trial is currently scheduled for June. His first trial ended with a hung jury in December. The defense could seek an injunction from the U.S. Supreme Court, but Colbert said that it’s unlikely to take it up. COLBERT: Appealing successfully, I think the only place to appeal would be the United States Supreme Court, and they would turn down this petition for [inaud.] the same as they do for hundreds and thousands of people every year. Because the Maryland Court of Appeals simply followed U.S. Supreme Court law and Maryland law. Next we get back to the courtroom, and that’s where the community has an opportunity to hear evidence and testimony, and for members of the community to serve as jurors to decide whether the evidence supports conviction or a not guilty finding. NOOR: Despite the numerous delays, Colbert warns not to underestimate the significance of the six officers being tried for Gray’s death in police custody. COLBERT: I think we should not underestimate what’s taking place here in Baltimore. There’s a prosecution going forward that’s ready to meet the defense arguments, and they are steadfast in their commitment to prosecute. We don’t see that happen in many parts of the country from local prosecutors. NOOR: Meanwhile, the anniversary of Freddie Gray’s death just weeks away, some in Baltimore are losing hope of ever getting a measure of justice for the 25-year-old Baltimore resident’s death. SPEAKER: What I think is, I think it really don’t matter about him testifying against the other cops, because you see what happened with his trial. So I mean, I just really think they’ll all really get off, to be honest with you, the way things are going, the delays and everything. They’re not, they’re inconclusive with everything. So I just think he’s going to get off. NOOR: Do you think a lot of people in Baltimore feel the same way? SPEAKER: People said, you said, I mean, the system is a joke. I mean, you figure out a way to beat the system, I mean, that’s what you do. And that’s what the police going to do on this one. That’s why they delayed everybody else’s case, they didn’t just jump on with the cases after his was labeled as a mistrial. And I’m just shocked that that was even a mistrial, so you know, it’s all going to play out. And the most thing that’ll happen is they probably will all not be police officers, or some of them may, some of them not, I don’t know. But I think they’re all going to get off, though, to be honest. I really do. I think they’re all going to get off. NOOR: From Baltimore, this is Jaisal Noor.
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