Freddie Gray’s knife, Marilyn Mosby’s bias

One of the charges brought by prosecutor Marilyn Mosby in the Freddie Gray case is false arrest. The police arrested Gray for carrying an illegal knife, but Mosby has announced that Gray’s knife was not an illegal switchblade under Maryland law.

Defense attorneys contest this claim. They have filed a motion to inspect the knife.

Who is right about the knife? Without having seen the knife, I can’t say for sure.

In court documents, the knife is described as a “spring-assisted, one-hand-operated knife.” Is such a knife illegal?

Maryland law makes it illegal to “sell, barter, display, or offer to sell or barter: (1) a knife or a penknife having a blade that opens automatically by hand pressure applied to a button, spring, or other device in the handle of the knife, commonly called a switchblade knife or a switchblade penknife; or (2) a device that is designed to propel a knife from a metal sheath by means of a high-compression ejector spring, commonly called a shooting knife.”

Baltimore city law makes it illegal “for any person to sell, carry, or possess any knife with an automatic spring or other device for opening and/or closing the blade, commonly known as a switch-blade knife.”

I’m not an expert in knives or in criminal law, but it sounds like Gray’s “spring-assisted knife” fits the city law description. If so, Gray could lawfully be arrested for possessing it.

You would think that a prosecutor would not trip herself up over something so basic as whether it was lawful to carry a given knife. Marilyn Mosby has the knife and should know whether it is outlawed by state and city law. She also knows that sooner or later the knife will be seen by a judge. So you would assume that she has a decent case that it is legal.

But when it comes to Mosby, we shouldn’t assume much. Her bias and lack of good judgment have been on display from the beginning.

Mosby’s bias is documented in a motion by the defense to have her removed from the case. Among the indicators of bias cited are these:

(1) Mosby’s statement in announcing the charges that “I heard your call for no justice, no peace. To the youth of this city, I will seek justice on your behalf. . . . You are at the forefront of this cause, and as young people our time is now.”

(2) Mosby’s husband’s “personal interest in the need to eliminate the rioting,” and her interest in “accommodating the needs of her husband.”

(3) The fact (alleged by the defense) that the Gray family lawyer is a “close friend, financial supporter and attorney for Mrs. Mosby” who served on her transition team after she was elected and represented her before an attorney grievance commission last year.

(4) The fact (alleged by the defense) that Mosby, on her first day in office, dropped criminal charges against one of two Baltimore police officers accused of killing a dog after it bit a pregnant woman. The officer cleared was represented by the Gray family lawyer who has ties to Mosby (see above).

There’s more. You can read a detailed analysis of the defense’s argument at Legal Insurrection.

There is no doubt in my mind that Mosby has been biased against the defendants from the beginning. Whether the motion will persuade a court to disqualify the prosecutor, a rare event, is another question.

As a practical matter, I’m not sure that, at this point, with charges filed, Mosby is any more biased than a similarly-invested prosecutor. Mosby’s special bias figured in, if at all, in the decision to charge (or overcharge) the six defendants.

A new prosecutor presumably would revisit that decision. But how likely is it that, given the environment in Baltimore, a new prosecutor would weaken the charges? Imagine the response of the street to (a) Mosby being removed and (b) charges being reduced.

I wonder whether the defense might be better off with Mosby staying on the case. I doubt that, given her age and level of experience, she’s a particularly able prosecutor. And some potential jurors may be developing doubts about her as this controversy continues to swirl.