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Freddie Gray Trial: Defense Moves for Mistrial After Schools Warn of Riots

Freddie Gray Trial: Defense Moves for Mistrial After Schools Warn of Riots

Judge denies motion after letter to parents warned of “civil disorder” following verdict

The defense counsel for Officer William Porter has moved for a mistrial after discovering that the Baltimore City Public Schools sent home a letter with students cautioning parents in which the CEO of the school system wrote:

I am very concerned about the possibility of civil disorders following announcements of the verdict.

Baltimore school letter 12-14-15

That full letter is embedded below.

Several of the jurors have children in school, and are likely to have seen the letter.  Jurors were cautioned against watching the news during deliberations, for fear that the news might improperly influence their judgement.  Jurors are supposed to deliver a verdict delivered solely on the evidence and legal arguments presented in court, not on any information obtained elsewhere.

Jurors were not, however, cautioned against reading letters brought home by their children from school.  The possible prejudicial effect of this letter’s caution of “civil disorder” is no different in any essential way than would be a news story on the same subject.

According to reporting by Justin Fenton of the Baltimore Sun, in counterargument to the defense motion for a mistrial, “Prosecutor Schatzow said there was ‘nothing incendiary’ in letter & noted jurors have already been questioned whether they can be impartial.”

Similarly, Judge Williams denied the motion for a mistrial, stating that “jurors have been clearly told only to consider info from court and letter not ‘an appropriate reason’ for mistrial.”

Exactly this kind of incident is precisely why this trial, and all the Freddie Gray” trials, should clearly have been transferred to another venue outside the City of Baltimore, given the extensive riots, looting, and arson that occurred in the city in the immediate aftermath of Gray’s death.

Here’s the letter from the Baltimore City Public Schools:

Keep your eyes here for continued coverage of the “Freddie Gray” trials.

–-Andrew, @LawSelfDefense

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Attorney Andrew Branca and his firm Law of Self Defense have been providing internationally-recognized expertise in American self-defense law for almost 20 years in the form of blogging, books, live seminars & online training (both accredited for CLE), public speaking engagements, and individualized legal consultation.
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What a farce! Why not just hang them out in front of the courthouse and be done with it?

(Oh, and Mr. Branca? The genius heading the Boston public schools says it’s “civil disorderS,” so that must be the correct usage.)

Well, there’s ANOTHER piece of appellate honey for the defense to work with.

Just incredible…!!!

    RickCaird in reply to Ragspierre. | December 15, 2015 at 12:30 pm

    This is great for Porter. If he is acquitted, he is done. But, if he is convicted, he has a built in appeal that is very likely to be accepted.

      Gremlin1974 in reply to RickCaird. | December 15, 2015 at 1:45 pm

      Just, Wow! As if this case didn’t have enough in it for an appeals court to have a field day. I mean I have heard of icing on the cake but heck we have moved into the decorative flowers and writing area now.

Baltimore really is run by a bunch of f*cking idiots.

    Ragspierre in reply to Observer. | December 15, 2015 at 11:16 am

    EVIL f’ing idiots.

    I’m no believer in conspiracy theories, mostly because human nature precludes their success.

    But THIS is overt jury tampering, IMNHO.

    Somebody said, “Let’s back-channel a message to the jury AND the city”. And that bureaucratic puke did just that.

      Milhouse in reply to Ragspierre. | December 15, 2015 at 12:01 pm

      Um, you don’t think the school district is genuinely concerned about riots, both about students and staff being hurt in them, and about students participating in them, and felt a duty to warn parents, and the possibility that some jurors might see the letter didn’t even cross their mind?! Come on, how is that not more plausible than your scenario?

        Char Char Binks in reply to Milhouse. | December 15, 2015 at 12:07 pm

        It could be both. It’s a legitimate warning to students and parents AND a directive from the mayor telling the jurors how to vote. Maybe it was unintentional, but the upshot is the same.

        Ragspierre in reply to Milhouse. | December 15, 2015 at 12:07 pm

        In a word, “No!”.

          Milhouse in reply to Ragspierre. | December 15, 2015 at 2:58 pm

          So what would you have done in his place? Would it not be criminally negligent of you not to send such a letter? Would you have risked the safety of the district’s staff and students, merely out of some concern about word reaching the jurors?! How could you justify that?

          And why would you even be thinking about the possible effect on the jurors? What normal person, on sending out such a letter, would even think about it? How would he even have known that some jurors had children in public schools?

          Gremlin1974 in reply to Ragspierre. | December 15, 2015 at 3:15 pm

          @ Milhouse

          I might agree with you if the letter had been sent before the start of the trial or even while the trial was still going on, though even that would have been questionable, the fact that is was send home on the very day that the jury began deliberations is the most telling aspect of all.

          Ragspierre in reply to Ragspierre. | December 15, 2015 at 3:25 pm

          Wholly BATSHIT, Milhouse…!!! How do you get to “criminally negligent”…???

          But here’s your answer–

          IF I sent out any letter, it would simply say that all students are required to attend school in the period between now and the Christmas break, and to maintain the peace and obey the law. No delinquency would be tolerated.

          See the period?

          Gremlin1974 in reply to Ragspierre. | December 15, 2015 at 3:47 pm

          The only letter the CEO should have put out regarding unrest is a notice to close the schools due to unrest.

        clintack in reply to Milhouse. | December 15, 2015 at 12:15 pm


        The letter seemed perfectly reasonable. He’d be derelict in his duty *not* to try to urge calm.

        Did anyone else think it weird that the Baltimore Public School System has a CEO rather than a Superintendent of Schools?

          Gremlin1974 in reply to clintack. | December 15, 2015 at 3:17 pm

          Since when is it in the duties of a school official to urge public calm? That is the job of the Mayor and Police, not what is basically the superintendent of schools.

        Gremlin1974 in reply to Milhouse. | December 15, 2015 at 1:48 pm

        Simple the CEO of schools is a partisan liberal democrat.

    Old0311 in reply to Observer. | December 15, 2015 at 11:17 am

    I thought that was true of the entire state. Have you ever noticed how Ms. Mosby and our dear leader like to clench their jaws and elevate their chins? Mussolini did the same thing and we all know what a great leader he was.

Was there any motion to sequester the jury early on? I realize it’s expensive, but in a high profile case like this, it’s hard to imagine any other way for the jury to avoid “contamination”.

I’d imagine the Gray case is being discussed at water coolers and bus stops and kids’ soccer games everywhere in the Baltimore area.

IANAL, but I’d imagine the threshold for a mistrial is pretty high, too, as well as adding its own complications. A new jury will likely have seen at least some of the media’s coverage of this trial, for example. It’s not clear why that would be better than the jury they’ve already got.

    Gremlin1974 in reply to clintack. | December 15, 2015 at 3:13 pm

    Without the change of venue this jury should have be sequestered as a forgone conclusion, but this judge is making decisions based on political winds not on good precedence and law.

    CalFed in reply to clintack. | December 15, 2015 at 3:25 pm

    Sequestering a Jury for the entire trial is uncommon. More common (although still fairly rare) is to sequester the jury once deliberations have begun.

I have it on good authority that police are preparing to deploy to Baltimore to moderate the situation. Who knows if this is simply a precaution, or an indication of how the trial went, according to authorities in control.

    I take it you mean they’ve just been ordered to mobilize, suggesting that a verdict may have been reached. Thanks.

    That would be nice, a verdict I mean. These verdict watches are very distracting, having to constantly keep an eye out, and I have a lot of real work to do. 🙂

    –Andrew, @LawSelfDefense

    HandyGandy in reply to Twanger. | December 15, 2015 at 12:32 pm

    The police or the National Guard?
    The governor may have some NG units preparing near Baltimore just in case.

      Char Char Binks in reply to HandyGandy. | December 15, 2015 at 12:42 pm

      With strict orders to give people room to riot?

        I clicked on the not liked thumb instead of Reply for

        Char Char Binks | December 15, 2015 at 12:42 pm

        Is there any way this can be removed?

        The Governor is not the problem. I doubt if even the mayor will give such an instruction this time. Although, there are credible experts in the riot prevention field who will include the “Give them space” instruction.

        I bet the DOJ experts include this in their Better Policing instructions.

          Char Char Binks in reply to davod. | December 15, 2015 at 3:10 pm

          I know it was the mayor who made that comment about space to riot, but the general strategy in crowd control has moved, rightly I think, away from heavy-handed pre-70s tactics, but has swung too far the other way. If Gov. Hogan has the backbone to stand up to rioters, I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

30 minutes away from Baltimore. Great night to sit on my couch, enjoying a pizza and Return of the Jedi.

How big a step is it from MOBs to lynchings?

If I were the judge I wouldn’t grant a mistrial at this stage either. I’d figure that after all that had gone into the trial, we should go on; either we get an acquittal and all is well, or we get a conviction and the defense can immediately appeal.

Then again, I wouldn’t have let the case through to the jury in the first place.

The jury asked for the exhibit list. The judge denied them the exhibit list because it is not evidence. How is a list of the evidence not evidence.

    Ragspierre in reply to HandyGandy. | December 15, 2015 at 12:55 pm

    Under the rules of evidence, ONLY evidence admitted by the court is evidence that can come before the jury.

    If the jury wants a list, they can certainly make one from the evidence before them.

      Gremlin1974 in reply to Ragspierre. | December 15, 2015 at 3:19 pm

      This Jury seems to be making some strange requests, asking for a list of evidence and not the evidence itself just seems weird.

Anyone find it unsettling that we are already several hours into day 2 of deliberations and the jury is still out? From what we read here, the Prosecution had nothing that came close to even “plausible”, to say nothing of “reasonable doubt”.

Its making me think there’s a rotten egg in the basket who came into the trial with a mind made up.

    HandyGandy in reply to SeanInLI. | December 15, 2015 at 12:55 pm

    That is why I asked if various rulings can be appealed before a retrial.

    A second trial could be a bigger problem for the prosecution if the appellate court gets it’s hands on the case first.

The prosecutor does not really care about the trial and probably would welcome a mistrial.

After all the major accomplishment of bringing these officers to trial in the first place was to hold a PRESS CONFERENCE.

Does the verdict have to be unanimous?

    davod in reply to davod. | December 15, 2015 at 1:23 pm

    PS. Maybe I should have written – Do all the jurors have to agree before a verdict can be presented?


    –Andrew, @LawSelfDefense

      The US Constitution doesn’t impose jury unanimity on the states, and a few states do allow for supermajority convictions. Maryland happens to be a state in which their own constitution requires jury unanimity, however:

      Constitution of Maryland
      Declaration of Rights
      Art. 21. That in all criminal prosecutions, every man hath a right to be informed of the accusation against him; to have a copy of the Indictment, or charge, in due time (if required) to prepare for his defence; to be allowed counsel; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have process for his witnesses; to examine the witnesses for and against him on oath; and to a speedy trial by an impartial jury, without whose unanimous consent he ought not to be found guilty.

      –Andrew, @LawSelfDefense

Straight from Alinsky – the end justifies the means.

Liberals will do *anything* to get their way, and they justify it by believing their way is the right way.

Davod Yes they all must agree to getting harassed ,beat up ext to vote for acquittal

I suspect that neither the Judge nor the mayor want to see anything but a guilty verdict that can be appealed IN ANOTHER LOCATION. A Not Guilty verdict will lead to rioting. And looting, this is, after all, the Christmas looting season.

FYI, jury reported itself deadlocked at 3:40PM, Judge Williams re-charged them (no word if Allen charge given) and sent them back into deliberations.

–Andrew, @LawSelfDefense

Andrew, at this point, is it possible that the jury is deadlocked on ALL charges? If so, I smell a rat.

Is it possible they are deadlocked on only one charge?

Does anyone truly believe that riots will not occur, regardless of outcome? It’s in the blood. Just Homies doing what Homies do…

    It’s certainly NOT “in the blood,” or we wouldn’t have Sowell and Williams and Thomas and Carson and enumerable others.

    It could WELL be in a broken urban culture, however, but that’s another point entirely.

    –Andrew, @LawSelfDefense