Baltimore’s Freddie Gray Case Reveals Ease of Probable Cause Arrests in Stamford, Darien & Greenwich Connecticut

This past April 2015, Freddie Gray suffered a fatal spinal cord injury while in police custody—stirring a national debate about police brutality, federal civil rights violations, and allegations of racial discrimination by law enforcement. After an investigation into Gray’s death, Baltimore City’s State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby ruled Gray’s death a homicide and filed charges against 6 Baltimore police officers for manslaughter and related charges. As the best Stamford Connecticut criminal lawyers and Greenwich Connecticut criminal attorneys understand, however, while filing these charges may have provided some comfort and peace of mind to Gray’s supporters, it is only the first step in a long and protracted criminal justice process….

Maryland and Connecticut Arrests Still Require a Probable Cause Finding for Charges to Stick

Although charges have been filed against the police officers involved in Gray’s death, Maryland law next requires a grand jury to make a finding of probable cause for each of these criminal charges before the officers can be indicted and presented for trial. In other words, the charges need to be reviewed by a grand jury before they can stick. A grand jury proceeding is essentially a presentation of evidence by prosecutors to a jury of ordinary citizens. This investigatory process is designed to protect those accused of a crime from unwarranted prosecution. A grand jury is not asked to decide whether an accused is guilty or innocent of the crimes charged; rather, they are asked to determine a threshold question of whether state prosecutors even have enough evidence to bring charges against the accused.

During this proceeding, the State’s Attorney will present evidence to a 23-member grand jury. This might include calling witnesses to testify, showing them forensic evidence from medical reports, autopsy reports, and surveillance footage. The grand jury will generally not hear any evidence from the accused police officers, or their criminal defense attorneys—that evidence is reserved for a trial jury. After the grand jury has heard the State’s case, they will have time to deliberate on whether there is probable cause for the accused to be charged with the crime.

If the grand jury finds that no probable cause exists, then the State cannot bring formal charges against the accused and the case is dismissed. However, if the jury finds that there is enough evidence to find probable cause, then they will vote for the indictment of the accused and the case will proceed to trial.

Stamford & Greenwich Connecticut State Court Arrests Do Not Convene Grand Juries

As any of the top Stamford Connecticut criminal lawyers and attorneys would inform you, Connecticut state courts almost never convene grand juries (although Connecticut federal courts always do). In Stamford, Westport, and New Canaan Connecticut arrests (as well as state court arrests anywhere else in Connecticut), probable cause findings are left to Superior Court judges prior to an arrest, not after an arrest. Top Greenwich, Darien and Stamford Connecticut criminal lawyers understand that Connecticut police and prosecutors gather evidence and lay out their evidence in a written arrest warrant application for a Connecticut Superior Court judge to review. If the judge grants and signs the application, then it is returned to the Connecticut police department which submitted the warrant application, and then the arrest warrant is served, or “executed,” upon the person arrested. Thus, if you are notified that you are the subject of a Connecticut arrest warrant application, or even a search warrant application, then you should contact a top Stamford Connecticut criminal lawyer right away.

What is Probable Cause?

The key component of the Baltimore grand jury process—or any Connecticut arrest warrant application process—is the finding of “probable cause.” Top Fairfield Connecticut criminal defense lawyers and top Westport Connecticut criminal attorneys would agree that probable cause must be based on factual evidence, and not just suspicions or rumors. A finding of probable cause is a lesser standard of proof than a trial “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” standard, which requires a judge or jury to decide whether they have any reasonable doubt in their mind that the accused is guilty of the crime charged. At trial, if a reasonable doubt exists in a juror’s mind, then the defendant must be acquitted and found not guilty.

How Connecticut Arrests Are Different from the Freddie Gray Arrest

While the arrest and indictment process varies from state to state, the best Connecticut criminal lawyers know that the Connecticut criminal system has always done things a bit differently than its brother and sister states. Until November 1982, Connecticut’s State Constitution required a grand jury indictment before someone could be prosecuted for a crime that was punishable by death or life imprisonment. Since then, the grand jury indictment requirement has been eliminated from our state constitution and substituted with a probable cause hearing before a judge. Remember, however, that probable cause hearing are reserved only for crimes punishable by life imprisonment (as Connecticut has recently abolished the death penalty). With few exceptions, the most frequently charged crime that carries a life sentence is murder. An accused person charged with a crime punishable by death or life imprisonment is therefore given a probable cause hearing in front of a single judge to determine whether there is enough evidence to create probable cause that the offense charged has been committed and that the accused person has committed it. An accused person may knowingly waive a probable cause hearing, which top Connecticut criminal lawyers often do for strategic reasons.

Warrant Arrests in Connecticut

As you can see, exactly how you can be arrested in Connecticut can be confusing, especially if you are living in a different state where the laws are different. So if you are notified that you are the target of a search warrant application, arrest warrant application of any other kind of Connecticut police investigation, then you should contact a top Connecticut criminal lawyer attorney right away.