By John Schmid, Special to the AFRO
Marilyn J. Mosby’s State’s Attorney’s Office (SAO) announced a victory in “justice over convictions,” last week.
Maryland General Assembly House Bill 874, “Criminal Procedure – Post Conviction Review – State’s Motion to Vacate,” has left debate on both the Maryland Senate and House floors and passed unanimously in the Senate (with one absentee) and by a wide margin in the House (110 yes, 26 no).
Office of The State’s Attorney For Baltimore City. (Courtesy Image/Logo)
A bipartisan bill, co-sponsored by Delegate Erek Barron (D-24), and Senator Christ West (R-42), it also enjoyed support from both sides of the Maryland legal system, prosecution and defense.
The State’s Attorney’s Office reports to have filed 153 joint motions with the Office of the Public Defender. Each of these motions were made “to vacate convictions believed to be hopelessly tainted due to the unethical conduct of the GTTF.” The state’s attorney’s office says that these motions until now were being rejected by judges because SAO does not have standing to intervene on behalf of those they have wrongly or seemingly wrongly convicted.
“As many of you are aware, certain Baltimore police officers who served as part of the Gun Trace Task Force engaged in sustained criminal activity over an extended period of time which included selling drugs, robbing people, engaging in extensive overtime fraud and filing falsified affidavits and reports, among other illegal behavior,” Mosby said during a recent press conference.
“As a result of the testimony, at a number of federal trials, as well as additional information provided to my office by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, we determined that as prosecutors we ethically could not let convictions stand where they were based on the testimony of evidence from these tainted officers.”
As of February, the SAO had identified over 2,000 tainted cases.
“This is an integrity bill. It’s a fairness bill. And it’s a public safety bill,” said Maryland State Public Defender Paul DeWolfe when offering his testimony in February. “I’m proud of the prosecutors in this state, and throughout the country, who are stepping up and doing all that they can to reverse convictions when those convictions are unfair or no longer a crime.”
The bill also gives the SAO standing to move to vacate convictions for marijuana possession, a part of Mosby’s new year initiative to decriminalise mere possession of marijuana with no intent to distribute.
The SAO does not provide any approximate figure of how many total vacations the city or state might be reviewing or motioning for in court, and Gov. Hogan’s–who has yet to sign or veto the bill–campaign was rife with anti-amnesty rhetoric that his opponent described as “Willie Horton”-esque.
But, the SAO’s office did report that Massachusetts legislation led to the vacation of 20,000 cases when a state lab was found to be falsifying evidence.
“We are beyond elated that House Bill 874, vacatur legislation, has passed and prosecutors all over the state will soon have the procedural right to revisit convictions for those that were unfairly or wrongly convicted,” said State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby in the SAO release. “I thank Delegate Erek Barron and Senator Chris West for their leadership and wisdom in advocating for this much-needed legislation, now ensuring that every prosecutor in this state can affirmatively pursue our ethical and legal obligation to seek “justice over convictions.”