Criminal defense often relies on the strength of the prosecution’s evidence. However, a gun possession prosecution in Baltimore may involve questions on the credibility of a police sergeant who arrested the defendant.
In late March, a circuit judge ruled that six internal affairs complaints could be used to attack the credibility of the sergeant as part of his cross-examination. Subsequently, however, an appeals court granted a temporary stay of the hearing after the police sergeant’s attorneys filed an emergency motion. His attorneys argued that allowing the case to proceed would cause irreparable harm to the sergeant’s credibility and his ability to testify at this weapons possession case and future trials.
Over 20 defendants awaiting trial for cases involving the sergeant’s arrests sought and received access to his personnel file which contained over 30 internal affairs complaints against him filed over 10 years. Some of these files were also disclosed in a civil case and revealed complaints of beatings, filing false reports and other allegations. Police internal affairs complaints are normally protected very strongly from disclosure. Prosecutors, however, must reveal any information to defense attorneys that could raise questions about the credibility of the arresting police officer.
The police sergeant has continued to claim that he is innocent of these complaints. He also argued that the police internal disciplinary process did not find that he was guilty after its internal affairs investigated and brought charges against him. In a rare public hearing before the circuit judge, defense attorneys sought to use some of the complaints if the arresting police sergeant testified at the criminal trial. The judge nonetheless ruled that six cases were relevant and could be used after reviewing files and hearing testimony from three people who filed complaints against the sergeant.
In his motion to stay the circuit judge’s ruling, his lawyers argued that general neglect or excessive force allegations should not be admitted in court to prove that he was untruthful or biased. Like the prosecutors, his attorneys also said that accusations of filing statements are the only type of complaint that is relevant to attacking a police officer’s credibility.
There may be many ways to challenge evidence and defend against weapons charges and other prosecutions. An attorney can assist with criminal defense and protecting the defendant’s rights.
Source: The Baltimore Sun, “Baltimore Police sergeant files appeal to block internal affairs complaints from emerging in court,” Justin Fenton, March 30, 2017