Early last week Ivan Bates was sworn in as the new state’s attorney in Baltimore City. His first announced change to the office once headed by Marilyn Mosby was to do away with his predecessor’s policy of not prosecuting low-level criminal offenses, such as marijuana possession and prostitution.
Bates has made clear that prosecuting these types of cases will be discretionary rather than having a total ban on prosecution. We agree with this rational approach to prosecuting even what may appear to be minor crimes in the city.
While we applaud Bates for this change to his office, we do encourage him to keep two units created by Mosby that are truly critical: the Sentencing Review Unit and the Conviction Integrity Unit.
The Sentencing Review Unit examines sentences in cases from the city to determine whether the State’s Attorney’s Office should support the release of the inmate or a modification of his sentence. The unit considers a number of factors, including the duration of incarceration, the person’s age at the time of the crime, the victim’s wishes, the facts of the case, any mitigating circumstances, the conduct of the defendant while incarcerated, the likelihood of re-offending, and the existence of reentry support for the defendant.
If after examining these criteria the unit believes that the sentence should be modified, the unit will join with defense counsel in seeking a modification of the defendant’s sentence, which could lead to immediate release or a significant reduction in the sentence.
Research has confirmed that most adolescents who commit serious crimes “age out” of criminal behavior and become law-abiding adults. The U.S. Supreme Court recognized this in Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551, where the court noted, “[o]nly a relatively small proportion of adolescents who experiment in risky or illegal activities develop entrenched patterns of problem behavior that persist into adulthood.”
Recognizing this, the Sentencing Review Unit has been instrumental in not only gaining the release of juvenile offenders who have spent significant portions of their lives behind bars but in assisting with reentry programming to ensure a smooth transition into the community.
The second program within the State’s Attorney’s Office that we urge Bates to preserve is the Conviction Integrity Unit. This unit, upon request, will thoroughly investigate a case to determine whether the inmate has been wrongly convicted and deserves to be exonerated.
The importance of this unit cannot be overstated, particularly in light of the past work of Gun Trace Task Force officers, who engaged in, among other criminal activities, falsely accusing individuals of crimes that were never committed and falsely arresting individuals they knew had not committed the offenses being investigated.
Not only do we hope Bates retains these two units but we would also encourage all state’s attorneys in Maryland to create similar units in their offices.
Editorial Advisory Board members Arthur F. Fergenson, Leigh Goodmark, Roland Harris and Susan F. Martielli did not participate in this opinion.
EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD MEMBERS
James B. Astrachan, Chair
James K. Archibald
Gary E. Bair
Andre M. Davis
Arthur F. Fergenson
Julie C. Janofsky
Ericka N. King
Susan F. Martielli
Angela W. Russell
Debra G. Schubert
H. Mark Stichel
The Daily Record Editorial Advisory Board is composed of members of the legal profession who serve voluntarily and are independent of The Daily Record. Through their ongoing exchange of views, members of the board attempt to develop consensus on issues of importance to the bench, bar and public. When their minds meet, unsigned opinions will result. When they differ, or if a conflict exists, majority views and the names of members who do not participate will appear. Members of the community are invited to contribute letters to the editor and/or columns about opinions expressed by the Editorial Advisory Board.