Attack on Mosby is misleading and unfair

The state's attorney was right to recognize witness intimidation as the scourge of Baltimore City.

Regarding former Baltimore City prosecutor Roya Hanna's op-ed on the recent spike in violence, as a former prosecutor and chief of the Family Violence Division, I respect Ms. Hanna's right to her opinion, but not the publication of misleading insinuations and falsehoods ("Former Baltimore prosecutor: Marilyn Mosby has a role in city's violence increase," Aug. 12).

Ms. Hanna's first argument is that Ms. Mosby has restricted the Homicide Review Commission to the examination of closed cases. But how this contributed to the recent increase in violent crime is never made clear.

Why the review of open cases is necessary to the operation of the commission is never explained.

Every experienced prosecutor knows that witness intimidation is the scourge of the Baltimore City criminal justice system. The widely circulated video "Stop Snitchin,'" which featured gun-toting gang members threatening witnesses, was produced in Baltimore City.

One of Ms. Mosby's campaign promises was to bridge the distrust between community members and law enforcement by, among other things, providing enhanced witness protection and services through the beefed up Victim/Witness Services Division. She is keeping that promise. But it will be for naught if the Commission generates additional discovery material that must be turned over to criminal defense attorneys.

Ironically, the review of open cases is unnecessary and probably unhelpful to the mission of the Homicide Review Commission. An appropriate model for the commission might be the Baltimore City Domestic Violence Fatality Review Team. This committee, which consists of representatives from various city agencies and nonprofits, examines closed domestic violence homicides in painstaking detail.

The goal is to identify systemic gaps that may have contributed to the likelihood of a fatality. The team reaches out to victims' families, witnesses and even the perpetrators. Obviously this in-depth review would be impossible if the team examined open cases. Based on the case reviews, the domestic violence team makes annual recommendations to the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, many of which have been implemented.

Ms. Hanna argues that Ms. Mosby is responsible for "light plea offers," which presumably contributed to the rise in violent crime. In her campaign platform, Ms. Mosby promised to focus on the small number of violent repeat offenders who commit the vast majority of serious crimes in the city, and she has reorganized the office to better accomplish that goal.

Many nonviolent offenders benefit substantially from successful completion of court-mandated treatment programs, as opposed to being assimilated into the criminal underclass by lengthy exposure to violent felons in prison. This approach is consistent with the recent repudiation of the zero-tolerance approach in Baltimore City.

Nonetheless, Ms. Hanna lists five defendants who, she claims, received lighter sentences or bails than appropriate due to "light plea offers." Every one of those claims is bogus. In two of the cases the prosecutors argued for stiffer sentences, but were undercut by the judges. In two more cases, prosecutors requested higher or no bail, and again were undercut by the court.

The fifth case was dismissed because a chemical analysis of the drugs the suspect was charged with possessing was negative. The insinuation that somehow Ms. Mosby is responsible for the decisions of the most lenient bench in the state is disingenuous.

Finally Ms. Hanna argues that Ms. Mosby fueled the recent surge in violent crime by charging police officers with the death of Freddie Gray. However, without more data it is impossible to know whether the surge in violence is due to officers' fears of being charged if they act too aggressively, a police slowdown or, as the BPD suggests, the looting of pharmacies, which produced a war among competing drug organizations.

However, even if the charges were determined to have a chilling effect on the police, that would be irrelevant to Ms. Mosby's duty as a prosecutor. Under the code of ethics applicable to prosecutors, Ms. Mosby's duty is not to please the police, nor is it to please the community. Her most important ethical responsibility is to do justice.

Assuming Ms. Mosby followed the dictates of her conscience with respect to each of the charges, she satisfied her most important obligation.

Julie A. Drake

The writer, a former Baltimore City prosecutor and division chief, is director of Forensic Work and a clinical instructor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work.

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