In a controversial verdict on Monday May 23rd, 2016, Officer Edward Nero, one of the six officers charged in the Freddie Gray case was found not guilty by a judge. The prosecutors in Baltimore brought this case against all of these officers after this instance occurred a little over a year ago from the date of the verdict. The officers in Baltimore wrongfully arrested Mr. Gray, that part is not really under dispute but what is in dispute is whether or not what they did was within their duty or was it an assault on Mr. Gray. The prosecutors argued that it was an assault and even noted that an unwanted hug could be an assault under the penal code. The defense’s main argument was that these officers were just doing what they should be doing, within their lawful duty. It is not really fully known what exactly caused the death but it can be seen listed as a spinal cord injury. There was evidence that a seatbelt was not used properly within procedure as the transportation of Freddie Gray was taking place. There wasn’t evidence that anyone intentionally killed Freddie Gray but there was certainly evidence that he died in their care, and if it were not for their unlawful arrest, this would have never happened. A huge error by the prosecution was doing a bench trial instead of a jury trial.
Bench vs. Jury Trial
A bench trial is one where the judge hears the entire case, and all of the arguments throughout it and then makes the decision on the verdict. In a bench trial, the jury is not involved at all. A jury trial is one where a jury of 12 peers hears the entire case, then deliberates on the case and finds the defendant either guilty or not guilty. If the defendant is found not guilty, the case is over and they cannot be tried again for that crime, if they are found guilty then the judge imposes the sentence. As a criminal defense attorney, it is pretty well known that a judge would be a better suited for a case with highly technical facts that a jury may not understand. For more of an emotional case it should certainly be tried by a jury. The prosecutor’s here made a mistake by going along with a bench trial in this case. If they wanted a conviction they should have done absolutely everything to secure a jury trial. The jury in this community, after hearing the facts about the death, of one of their own, would have been much more likely to convict than a judge would.
Are officers being too rough with suspects?
We cannot go a month these days without hearing of new officer conduct that has been questionable. The officers always back up their own, no matter what the facts are, they are a brotherhood and will never admit that they were too rough with someone. There has been recent legislation around the United States asking for there to be body worn cameras so that if any of these types of situations do occur then at least they can be documented. For an officer to commit a battery or an assault on someone, the question is going to be whether or not this is beyond their regular work duties and whether or not any of the assault or battery crimes were intentional.
Edward Nero was the first one to be found not guilty in the prosecution of this group of individuals. Prosecutors should really go back to the drawing board and re think their strategy if they want to secure a conviction in the future.
If you have been assaulted by an officer and have been unlawfully arrested, feel free to call Ozols Law Firm for a free consultation.