I was surprised by the hung jury in the William Porter trial

December 17, 2015

William Porter was charged with manslaughter, assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment based on his failure to get medical help for a critically wounded Freddie Gray. The jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict, so the judge declared a mistrial.

I was surprised by the hung jury because it seemed to me that Porter admitted that (1) he did not restrain a hand-cuffed Freddie Gray with a seat belt and (2) he ignored Gray’s request for medical assistance in violation of departmental rules. Those rules were specifically designed to prevent the type of harm that Gray suffered. Therefore, he was culpably negligent, if not reckless, for Gray’s injuries and death.

Consider, for example, what might happen to a parent whose infant child was killed in an auto accident because he failed to secure the child in a safety seat. That’s culpably negligent manslaughter.

What happens next?

The prosecution has the option of retrying Porter or dismissing the case against him. They also could offer him a plea bargain in which he pleads guilty to a lesser offense or they might immunize him from further prosecution in exchange for his testimony against some or all of the other five defendants.

The decision depends on the nature of the jury split and why they split. The prosecution is far more likely to retry the case, for example, if the majority of the jurors voted to convict Porter, than if the majority voted to acquit him. Also, they are likely to retry the case, if the jurors could not reach a unanimous verdict because they were confused about the evidence or a jury instruction. Confusion can be eliminated with a retrial.

We will not know the nature of or reason for the split because the judge has imposed a gag order to protect the right of each of the other five defendants to a fair trial.

What do you think?


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