The mistrial for the officer charged in the death of Freddie Gray ultimately makes officers less likely to testify against each other, makes juries less likely to convict the other five officers, and disrupts the prosecution’s entire strategy.
The judge declared a mistrial Wednesday in the trial for Baltimore Police Officer William Porter, 26, after the jury could not reach a unanimous decision. Now, the prosecution must decide whether to retry the case, but the mistrial puts the prosecution in a bind.
The prosecution planned to use Porter, after he was convicted, to testify against the other officers. As of now, all the officers are pleading the fifth amendment, but a convicted officer could be pressured to testify. Since Porter, who is black, is not convicted and still could be retried, he can’t legally be required to testify and will likely continue to plead the fifth.
John Banzhaf, professor of public interest law at George Washington University, told The Daily Caller News Foundation that the mistrial makes the prosecution look weak so officers will be less likely to betray their fellow officers and accept a plea deal. On the other hand, prosecutors may be more desperate and willing to offer a very appealing deal to an officer to get testimony.
“I’m sure that a lot of people are reconsidering at this point and new deals are being offered,” Banzhaf told TheDCNF. “Their hand has been weakened because everybody is seeing that they couldn’t get any conviction with this one guy. “The incentive for the cops to plead is decreased. What that might mean is that if a cop was willing to accept a slap on the wrist plea, they might be rethinking that. They might say ‘sure we wouldn’t let officer X skate before for time served for some minor little thing, but boy we have to get our image back and put the fear of God into these other guys, so give him a slap on the wrist and get him to help convict the others.’”
Banzhaf said that juries are heavily influenced by previous rulings and that a conviction would break the seal to show that the officers can be convicted in this case. The prosecution missed an opportunity to seriously sway future juries with an early guilty verdict.
“Once one of them is convicted, it would be much easier and therefore much more likely that another trial would find the next one guilty,” Banzhaf said. “It’s all part of one ball of wax.”
City officials are on edge as they fear of a second round of riots. So far, things have been peaceful, but that will likely be put into question if the prosecution decides not to retry Porter or offers him a plea deal that is seen as a slap on the wrist. The other officers’ trials are scheduled for 2016.