It’s often said that a prosecutor could indict a ham sandwich. While that may be true, only a bad prosecutor actually would, and fortunately, we don’t see it happen often.
Last year, in Baltimore, it did.
Inflamed by the in-custody death of inveterate criminal Freddie Gray, enraged by riotous mobs who caused millions of dollars in property damage and inflicted injuries on over 100 police officers, Baltimore’s visibly angry chief prosecutor, Marilyn Mosby, took to the podium last spring to announce charges against six seasoned Baltimore police officers.
And she said these words:
“While I am committed to transparency, what I have revealed here today is now a matter of public record. However, the evidence we have collected and continue to collect cannot ethically be released to the public and I strongly condemn anyone in law enforcement with access to trial evidence who has leaked information prior resolution of this case. You are only damaging our ability to conduct a fair and impartial process for all parties involved.
“I hope that as we move forward with this case everyone will respect due process and refrain from doing anything that would jeopardize our ability to seek justice.
“To the people of Baltimore and the demonstrators across America: I heard your call for ‘No justice, no peace.’ Your peace is sincerely needed as I work to deliver justice on behalf of this young man.”
While some of those to whom she spoke – potential violent protesters – have kept their end of the bargain so far, Mosby has horribly failed to keep her end.
What she asked and promised was respect for due process, fairness, impartiality, and transparency. Today, we are again processing the transparency through the eyes of Judge Barry Williams, and what we are learning is that Marilyn Mosby’s view of due process, fairness, and impartiality is hardly what is defined by Websters, or in any law book.
As the third prosecution of the Baltimore Six collapsed in Judge Williams’ court on Thursday, like the two before it, what is transparent is that Mosby did what she was accused of a year ago – rushed to judgment. Worse, her rush also bore the stamp of grand jury indictments of six Baltimore officers, indictments that have been, for them and their families, life-changing. And the judge who has heard and processed every bit of testimony and other evidence in the cases reaching trial so far has, brick by crumbling brick, systematically dismantled the hollow cases brought by Mosby’s henchmen.
So resounding has been her defeat that one must ask how and why these charges could ever have been brought. Yesterday, the prosecution’s “rough ride” theory that would have sent Caesar Goodson to jail for three decades turned into little more than wisps of smoke. The steely-eyed, hard-charging prosecutor who welcomed a Vogue magazine profile and sat onstage with Prince, turns out to be Baltimore’s Icarus – her soaring ego failing to identify her shortcomings – including her unwillingness to recognize the presence or absence of basic facts.
When prosecutors choose to ignore the facts and bring politically-motivated charges regardless, they risk wrongful convictions or, as in Baltimore, failure. They also undermine the concepts of due process and the rule of law, rather than advancing them. The citizens of Baltimore are ill-served when their chief prosecutor casts aside the expectations of her oath of office in order to sacrifice six police officers on the public altar. They are ill-served when their chief prosecutor raises expectations of the trial, convictions, and speedy, harsh sentencing only to have those expectations crumble. And they are ill-served when the prosecutors, as seems to have happened here, fail in that impartiality and transparency by withholding or ignoring exculpatory evidence from the defense.
What happens next is important. Perhaps, today, Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who was quoted as allowing last year’s rioters, “space to destroy” will decide that her chief prosecutor should be given no such space herself. It is overdue.
Ron Hosko is the president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund (LELDF). The LELDF is engaged in fundraising to help offset the cost of defending the Baltimore Six.