Caesar Goodson Jr., the Baltimore police officer who drove the van in which Freddie Gray apparently suffered his fatal injury, was found not guilty on all counts, exactly as predicted by public interest law professor John Banzhaf in an analysis of the case issued May first.
Banzhaf had also made successful public predictions in high profile legal cases going back to the NYC subway shooter, and including more recently the O.J. Simpson criminal case, the Zimmerman self defense case, the Ferguson police shooting death, the Staten Island police choking death, and others.
Banzhaf correctly predicted that two of the key issues likely to defeat the prosecution’s case against Goodson and the other police officers would be causation and scienter.
Given the confusing and often contradictory evidence, it would be very difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt exactly which officer’s actions or inactions were the legal cause of Gray’s injuries, much less his resulting death, which is one of the elements required to prove homicide, Banzhaf explained then.
Here the judge said that, even after reviewing the surveillance footage more than a dozen times, it was impossible to tell at which point during the ride Gray suffered his fatal neck injury.
As Banzhaf had explained at the time, while the evidence may be clear that one or more police officers caused Gray’s injuries – thus providing more than necessary support for a large verdict in a civil suit against Baltimore – it could not be established beyond a reasonable doubt which officer was legally responsible.
Scienter – that the defendant acted with a wrongful criminal intent, and not just negligently – was also a necessary element in finding Goodson guilty of any crime, but this likewise would have been virtually impossible to prove, especially beyond a reasonable doubt, Banzhaf had predicted.
This is essentially what the judge meant when he said that, while Goodson may have shown poor judgment, there was insufficient showing that he necessarily intended to harm Gray; i.e., that there had not been “evidence presented at this trial that the defendant intended for any crime to happen.”
Many people, including columnists and TV commentators, kept assuming that Goodson’s failure to follow a new rule requiring prisoners to be seat belted automatically made it a crime, especially if a death resulted. But it’s important to remember that not all wrongful acts are necessarily crimes, says Banzhaf.
For example, in the choke hold case in NYC, many argued that, since choke holds were prohibited by police rules, the officer who did the choking must be guilty of a crime. But the mere violation of a police directive, even if it ultimately leads to death, doesn’t necessarily make the underlying act a crime.
Similarly, if Baltimore officers violated a directive that prisoners must be belted in when being transported, they can face departmental discipline, but not necessarily a criminal conviction.
And, notes Banzhaf, it would be hard to prove that transporting prisoners without using seat belts constitutes depraved indifference to human life (what percentage of prisoners die in such situations?) or even negligence, especially since apparently it was standard practice in Baltimore until very recently, and is probably still the practice of many other police departments.