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Freddie Gray case: What you need to know about the Court of Appeals arguments

Prosecutors and defense attorneys in the Freddie Gray case will sparred today in the highest court in Maryland, arguing whether Officer William Porter should be forced to testify against five fellow Baltimore police officers who, like him, are charged in Gray’s arrest and death.

Gray, 25, suffered a severe spinal cord injury in the back of a police transport van in April and died a week later. Protests against police brutality broke out in Baltimore because of the case, and rioting, looting and arson occurred on the day of Gray's funeral. The case has attracted international attention.

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On May 1, six officers involved in his arrest and transport were criminally charged by Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby, and later indicted.

The six officers' trials were severed, and scheduled to proceed consecutively and quickly through the lower court.

How did we get here?

Porter was the first officer to go to trial in December. The proceedings ended in a mistrial after the 12-member jury failed to reach a consensus on any of the four charges against him. A retrial was scheduled for this summer.

Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams then ordered Porter to testify in the next two scheduled trials, of his fellow officers – Officer Caesar Goodson Jr. and Sgt. Alicia White. However, Porter appealed that decision, and the state’s second-highest court, the Court of Special Appeals, took up the case, staying the trials in the lower court.
Williams then denied a late request by prosecutors that he force Porter to testify against the next three officers scheduled to stand trial: Officers Edward Nero and Garrett Miller and Lt. Brian Rice. Williams suggested the request was a stall tactic, as prosecutors had not identified Porter as a witness in those trials earlier in the discovery process.
The Attorney General’s office, acting on behalf of prosecutors, appealed that decision to the Court of Special Appeals. Then, before the Court of Special Appeals responded, the state petitioned the Court of Appeals, the highest court, to take up all of the cases collectively.
The high court agreed, staying all trial proceedings in the lower court and scheduling oral arguments on an expedited schedule for today.
What are the arguments?
Porter has contended that his constitutional right against self-incrimination would be violated were he forced to testify under oath before his retrial.
Prosecutors have said a limited form of immunity offered by the state – barring Porter’s testimony from being used against him in his own retrial – is sufficient to protect his rights. They have also argued the decision to offer immunity and compel a witness is that of the state’s attorney, not the lower court.

Attorneys for the other officers have also objected to Porter being forced to testify.

What are the questions the high court hopes to answer?
In the matter of Porter testifying in the Goodson and White cases, Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera has ordered that attorneys make arguments pertaining to a single question.
That is, does the state’s limited immunity statute “provide Porter sufficient protection against self-incrimination to allow” his forced testimony?
In the matter of Porter testifying in the Nero, Miller and Rice cases, Barbera ordered the attorneys to make arguments pertaining to two questions.
First: Does the state’s immunity statute require a court to force a witness to testify if the prosecutors requesting the order have met statutory requirements in their request, or does the it “instead permit a court to substitute its own discretion” to determine whether compelling the witness to testify would be in the public interest?
Second: Is Williams’ decision denying the prosecutors request that he compel Porter to testify a final and therefore appealable issue?
What happens next?
The seven judges who will hear the oral arguments could issue a brief ruling as soon as this afternoon, or could take months to reach a decision.
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