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Baltimore State’s Attorney Mosby sends letter to lawmakers releasing conviction data amid escalating feud with Gov. Hogan

Maryland State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby is pushing back against Gov. Larry Hogan and others who argue that her inability to prosecute violent criminals is increasing Baltimore's crime problem. Mosby sent a 21-page letter to lawmakers in which she argued that her conviction rates are as good as or better than her predecessors'.
Maryland State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby is pushing back against Gov. Larry Hogan and others who argue that her inability to prosecute violent criminals is increasing Baltimore's crime problem. Mosby sent a 21-page letter to lawmakers in which she argued that her conviction rates are as good as or better than her predecessors'. (Julio Cortez/AP)

A dispute between top Maryland officials about how best to address violent crime in Baltimore continued to escalate this week, with Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and Democratic Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby trading barbed words.

Mosby made public a 21-page letter she sent to top Maryland lawmakers that, she said, dispels “a number of false misconceptions and intentional misrepresentations about my office’s conviction rate and our approach to violent crime.”

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In the letter, sent to Senate President Bill Ferguson and House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, both Democrats, Mosby laid out statistics about her office’s prosecution of violent crimes and homicides that, she said, show her performance is in line with previous top Baltimore prosecutors Gregg Bernstein and Patricia Jessamy, who held the office before Mosby’s tenure, which began in 2015.

Mosby put her office’s 2019 conviction rate for violent crimes and homicides at 89% and 82%, respectively ― rates similar to those of previous top prosecutors. Those numbers do not include cases her office declines to prosecute, following a standard set by the Association for Prosecuting Attorneys, she said.

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The statistics released by Mosby’s office show she dropped 27% of violent crime cases last year, and secured a conviction in 89% of cases that weren’t dropped, either through plea deal or jury or court verdict. Of the 1,111 violent crime cases in 2019, prosecutors secured a conviction in 719, she reported. Some of the cases were dropped because they were referred to the U.S. attorney’s office for federal prosecution, she added.

Mosby letter

For homicide cases, in 2019, Mosby’s office dropped 14%. Prosecutors had an 82% conviction rate of cases that went before the court, including plea deals. Of 117 homicide cases, 83 resulted in a conviction, the statistics show.

Mosby’s letter comes as she is trying to fight an effort from Hogan to transfer more resources for prosecuting violent crime in Baltimore away from her and to Attorney General Brian Frosh. Hogan has argued that Mosby is allowing violent offenders to “get a slap on the wrist” before they are "released back out onto the streets to commit yet another violent offense.”

In her letter, Mosby wrote that Hogan’s claims are “demonstrably false."

Mosby presented 10 years of data in the letter. While the data indicate conviction rates have remained largely the same over that time, some of the statistics show a lower total number of successful prosecutions during Mosby’s tenure, likely due to police solving fewer cases and making fewer arrests. For instance, in 2011, when Baltimore saw its lowest homicide rate in recorded history, prosecutors secured more than 1,000 convictions in violent crime cases. Last year, that number was lower than 800. Arrests by Baltimore police declined by more than half during these years.

Amid the ongoing dispute over how best to drive down violent crime, Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, last month sent a letter to Mosby requesting data on her office’s performance.

“I appreciate the state’s attorney sharing the information expeditiously,” Ferguson said Wednesday. “Solving the challenges we face with violence requires us to use accurate data to make policy decisions. Real solutions requires a clear definition of the problem and data like this helps.”

In Mosby’s letter, she wrote that more than half of dropped violent crime cases were because “a key victim or witness failed to appear.” Ferguson said he was “pleased” legislation toughening penalties for witness intimidation is advancing in the state Senate to help address that problem.

Del. Luke Clippinger, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said the data presented by Mosby is “one piece of the puzzle” to understanding where the criminal justice system is breaking down. But, he said, a full audit of gun crimes that includes calls for service, arrests and sentences is needed.

“It’s important for all partners to work together, as opposed to either pointing fingers or deflecting their own piece of the shared responsibility,” Clippinger, a Baltimore Democrat, said.

To bolster the governor’s plan to fund 25 new positions targeting Baltimore crime in Frosh’s office, Senate President Emeritus Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Calvert Court Democrat, has submitted legislation to mandate the $2.5 million expenditure for the Attorney General’s office annually.

During a bill hearing last month on Miller’s legislation, Mosby testified: “Tougher sentences, more prosecutors, more police is not going to reduce violence in the city of Baltimore.”

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That prompted Hogan to post Mosby’s quote to Facebook, saying: “The person responsible for prosecuting crime in Baltimore City is opposing our crime initiatives to reduce violent crime.” His post received more than 1,000 comments, many disparaging Mosby.

Also Tuesday, the Maryland Senate’s top-ranking Republican introduced a bill that would allow the governor to declare a state of emergency in Baltimore due to the high murder rate.

“The governor and his allies have become increasingly desperate as they try and ram their old-school, tough-on-crime agenda through the legislature,” Mosby said in response.

To support Mosby, a political action committee called the Annapolis Coalition of Black Progressives released a web video called “Tough On Crime Doesn’t Work” that features Hogan and Miller talking about their criminal justice plans while images of police brutality are shown.

David Jaros, a University of Baltimore Law School professor, said the data contained in Mosby’s letter doesn’t show ― one way or the other ― whether her office is performing well. In a conviction rate, a guilty plea that results in no jail time is counted the same as a life sentence, he noted. Moreover, he said, every case is different. In Baltimore, where some corrupt cops have been known to frame people, a lower conviction rate some years would mean justice was served.

“No one is disputing we have a real crime problem in Baltimore," Jaros said. "But the years of relying on the criminal justice system to solve these problems is part of the problem itself.”

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