The trial of one of the Baltimore police officers charged with Freddie Gray’s death has been postponed.
Baltimore Officer Caesar R. Goodson’s trial, the cop driving the van Freddie Gray rode in before his death, was scheduled to begin Monday but was delayed at the last minute so a state appeals court can review a crucial and unusual ruling made by a judge last week that will have huge implications for the trials of all officers involved.
The Monday morning announcement comes after officer William Porter’s trial ended in a mistrial in December when the jury could not make a decision. The mistrial poses a problem for the prosecution, which hoped to use Porter’s testimony against the other officers. Most expected an unconvicted Porter couldn’t be forced to testify against his fellow officers since he could still invoke the Fifth Amendment.
But in a surprise decision Judge Barry G. Williams ruled last week that Porter could be forced to testify in Goodson’s trial, but that his testimony could not be used against him — a major victory for the prosecution. The ruling was the first of its kind in the state and raised eyebrows among some legal experts. Williams himself admits his own ruling is legally “in uncharted territory.”
Porter’s defense, worried the testimony could still hurt his chances in a retrial, appealed the decision to the state. Williams announced Monday morning Goodson’s trial will be pending until the Maryland Court of Special Appeals rules on the judge’s decision to force Porter to testify.
“I have some doubts that ruling will stand up on appeal because it was very difficult to ensure that someone’s rights are protected when they are given use immunity instead of transactional immunity,” John Banzhaf, professor of public interest law at George Washington University, tells The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Transactional immunity is the broadest type of immunity. For example, an accomplice in a bank robbery will testify against his fellow robbers in exchange for a guarantee that he will not be tried for the robbery. But Porter was offered the more narrow use immunity, which compelled him to testify while saying the testimony can’t be used against him. Banzhaf calls the decision “rather unusual.”
While the prosecution can’t officially use the testimony against Porter in court, the information gathered from his testimony could still be extremely helpful to the prosecution. Any detail can help the prosecution know what question to ask or what facts to gather to present a case.
“They say they are not going to use anything they glean form his testimony, but it is difficult to say that won’t happen,” Banzhaf tells TheDCNF. “It’s awfully difficult to guarantee when you hear his total testimony that they won’t get some detail or fact and if not use that, at least frame the question.”
Because the case is so highly publicized, it is hard to believe that Baltimore’s residents, who are the future jurors in Porter’s retrial, would not hear about details from his testimony.
“It could potentially taint the jury pool that would be available in the retrial of the porter case,” Banzhaf tells TheDCNF.
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