Court of Appeals to hear arguments of officers charged in Freddie Gray death

By Michael Wein

As previous Blog posts of  January 19, February 12, and February 22 indicated would occur, expeditious Court of Appeals of Maryland arguments in the prosecution of the officers charged in Freddie Gray’s death will occur today, and are available for view by webcast. Officer William Porter initially sought relief in the appellate courts after being ordered by the trial judge to give testimony, pending his retrial, in the cases of Officers Caesar Goodwin and Alicia White, and was previously designated by the Court of Special Appeals, pursuant to Md. Rule 8-111, as the appellant in the case. Notably, after that court consolidated the appeal with those of Officers Goodwin and White, there was some disagreement about the correct caption and confusion as to whether it was appropriate to call them “Respondents” in the Court of Appeals. In any case, the four oral arguments to be heard today will address legal issues related to the cases of all six officers charged in Mr. Gray’s death.

The Court of Appeals is seeking to expeditiously rule in the matter because of the time‑sensitive nature of the case and the constitutional rights of the defendants to have a speedy trial. It would not be surprising if rulings on the appeals are issued by tomorrow, when the Court of Appeals, per their schedule, presently only has two oral arguments on its calendar. Thus, this case could be decided by a quick, one- or two-page “summary” opinion with a directive mandate, followed by a more detailed opinion in the coming months. In Maryland, these type of opinions are usually reserved for very time-sensitive matters (usually election cases) that are listed on the Court of Appeals’ “Highlighted cases” webpage. Alternatively, and less likely, one or more judges could work diligently to tackle the interesting and important legal questions posed and issue a full decision within a few weeks.

One curiosity that is easy to miss about the arguments made — in addition to the State’s claims in a reply brief filed yesterday that three of the officers do not have standing in the matter — is the officers’ invocation, in the conclusion of their brief at page 37, of the Court of Special Appeals’ decision in McNeil v. State, 112 Md. App. 434, 461-462 & 466 (1996), which approved of sanctions, including possible dismissal of a criminal case, if the State does not act in good faith in lodging or pursuing an interlocutory appeal. This premise is apparently relied on in support of defendant Officers Brian Rice, Edward Nero, Garrett Miller and Porter’s argument that the State improperly sought certiorari with the Court of Appeals, and that sanctions are merited because of the effect it had on the trials that were scheduled. The officers are requesting that, because of the allegedly improper appeal, the Court of Appeals’ remand to the trial court open the door for sanctions, including dismissal on these grounds.

[Editor’s note: Blog editor-in-chief Steve Klepper had no role whatsoever in the review, editing, or posting of this piece, or the decision to publish it.]

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