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Freddie Gray case heads to State's Highest Court

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Posted at 7:24 PM, Mar 02, 2016
and last updated 2018-12-31 14:33:26-05

Once his mistrial was declared, the state not only indicated it wanted to re-try Officer William Porter, but in the meantime, it wanted him to testify against the other five officers.

Immediately, legal scholars knew this was a big ask.

"This is a big issue. This question about whether or not the state can compel a defendant who is facing charges to testify about those issues, about what happened in his co-defendant's case is new and is a big deal," said Associate Professor of Law at the University of Baltimore David Jaros.

Because as the defense says in its legal brief filed in the Court f Appeals, this issue goes straight to the heart of William Porter's right to plead his fifth amendment right, or Maryland Article 22, and not incriminate himself while he has charges pending in the same matter.

It is a complicated legal argument and an important one the court ultimately feels needs to be hashed out before anything else can happen in any of these Freddie Gray cases.

"It is one of those cases where after the fact, you can't put the genie back in the bottle so if he is forced to testify and it turns out he shouldn’t have been forced, there is nothing that can be done so it is not shocking that the court is stepping in here," Jaros said.

Not shocking, but not altogether expected either.

"It is not common that the Court of Appeals would then reach down and pull the case up to hear it,” University of Maryland Law Professor Renee Hutchins said, “The Court of Appeals thinks that there is something in this case that is of state wide magnitude,  that's important, that they need to have a say on."

Hutchins has argued several cases in the state's highest court.

She has stood at the lectern with lights indicating how much time is left, each side gets 30 mins to argue the issue.

The center seat on the bench is reserved for the chief judge who is then flanked by judges to the left and right in order of seniority.

Each judge may have questions and Hutchins says, all their questions should have thoughtful answers.

"For the most part you want to treat oral argument like an opportunity to really be in conversation with the judges. Questions are not roadblocks. Questions are opportunities for you to talk to the court about what they care about.  They are the ones deciding the case and they are the ones you need to convince," Hutchins said.

Thursday’s hearing could last about three hours.

More Freddie Gray coverage

Once complete, the court will then review and rule.

There is no time table on when a ruling could come down, but Hutchins feels with the publicity surrounding the case, it could be as soon as a month.

Not only are there five cases pending this specific ruling, but Jaros says it could also have immediate state wide implications.

"This has the potential to really change how co-defendant cases are tried so it has larger implications that just what happens in the trial of the officers in the Freddie Gray cases."

In total, three issues will be argued in front of the Court of Appeals.

The first two are deal with the lower court’s ruling that Officer Porter’s testimony is definitely not needed in the last three trials of Officers Edward Nero, Garrett Miller and Lieutenant Brian Rice and whether or not that ruling is appealable.

The last issue is the main argument about whether or not the state can force William Porter to testify against Officer Goodson and Sgt. Alicia White while he himself awaits a re-trial.

The hearing is set to begin at 10 o’clock Thursday morning in Annapolis.

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