Prosecutors in the Freddie Gray case are opposing a defense request to sequester jurors during the trial of Officer William Porter.
In a filing posted online Monday, prosecutors say Porter's attorneys are seeking conditions that would be "so onerous that few otherwise qualified jurors could withstand such hardship." They say the defense attorneys are trying to get the trial moved to another jurisdiction.
"While actively discouraging jury service might serve the defendant's removal motion, it serves no legitimate purpose," prosecutors wrote in the filing, dated Oct. 28. They wrote that an order to sequester would "quite literally make the jurors prisoners of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City."
Attorneys for Porter, whose trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 30, asked Judge Barry Williams last month to put jurors up in a hotel with no access to cellphones and limited access to television, and to order sheriff's deputies to monitor their interactions with family and friends.
They said the conditions were necessary to prevent jurors from being influenced by others and hounded as they moved to and from the courthouse each day for trial.
It is inevitable that they would be "bombarded with opinions, TV news, Facebook posts and the like," they said.
Gray, 25, died in April after suffering a severe spinal cord injury in police custody.
Attorneys for the six officers charged in Gray's arrest and transport asked that their trials be moved out of Baltimore. Williams denied the request, saying the court should do everything it can to try to pick a fair and impartial jury made up of Baltimore residents.
Prosecutors now accuse defense attorneys of filing the sequester request as a way to force a change of venue.
"Forcing jurors to stay in a hotel at night for the duration of the trial would create such hardship that entire categories of otherwise qualified citizens would be unable to serve — single parents with children at home, caregivers with elderly or disabled relatives at home, single persons with a pet at home," prosecutors wrote. "The few people who would remain after [the jury selection process] could hardly be called a fair cross-section of the community."
Prosecutors say sequestration could have the opposite of its desired effect. They cite a 1981 ruling in which an appellate court found jurors "are more likely to perform their duty fairly and correctly when they are not subjected to extended periods of arbitrary and pointless personal confinement."
In all cases, jurors are instructed by a judge to avoid conversations about the trial and told to avoid news reports or social media posts. Prosecutors said the instructions provide "ample initial safeguards against outside influences."
Porter's attorneys say case law is outdated, having developed before "Facebook, Twitter, and wall-to-wall media saturation," and that jury instructions fail to account for the outsize attention to the case.
Prosecutors also oppose Porter's backup suggestion: That, in lieu of staying at a hotel, jurors meet at a remote location each morning to be escorted to the courthouse by deputies to avoid protesters and media. The prosecutors said there has been "diminishing media and public attention" on the case.
The cost of sequestering jurors falls on taxpayers through the court system. The cost would be determined by the length of the trial, which is unclear. Gary Proctor, one of Porter's attorneys, noted that he has been involved in trials in which the jury was sequestered.