Source:  Baltimore Sun Sunspot

                    Getting away with murder: Responses
                    Officials respond to the Feb. 14 Sun editorial

                    On Feb. 14, The Sun published "Getting
                    away with murder," a two-page editorial
                    that called for the repair of Baltimore's
                    broken criminal justice system. The
                    editorial also made other specific
                    recommendations aimed at reducing the city's number of murders,
                    which has topped 300 for nine years. We invited officials to respond
                    to the editorial and its recommendations. These are the responses we


                    Parris N. Glendening and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend

                    Most Maryland residents are enjoying lower crime rates. But in
                    Baltimore, Maryland's largest urban center, the criminal justice
                    system is in crisis. While various interested parties continue disputing
                    accountability for backlogged cases, felons continue to be released
                    to the streets.

                    When we read in The Sun about the backlogs and delays and
                    dismissals in the court system, our first reaction was, "What if
                    someone in my family was the victim of a terrible crime and we were
                    forced to watch the person responsible go free because of an
                    overwhelmed bureaucracy?"

                    There is no more time for blame, and no more time to wait for
                    long-term solutions. We must all take responsibility and act decisively

                    Already our budget provides $383,000 for additional prosecutors,
                    and we will submit an additional $128,000 so they can begin tackling
                    the backlog of felony cases immediately.

                    Although funding for Circuit Court buildings and other infrastructure
                    is a local function, under these urgent circumstances we are prepared
                    to fund temporary court facilities.

                    All of the city's elected officials, judges, prosecutors, defense
                    attorneys, clerks, administrators and other state and local agencies --
                    including the state-operated Central Booking and Intake Center --
                    must work together to devise a comprehensive management plan that
                    addresses challenges facing the system.

                    Ultimately, the success of the courts depends in large part on our
                    ability to cut crime and drug addiction, which fuel the large number of
                    cases clogging the dockets.

                    Parris N. Glendening and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend are
                    governor and lieutenant governor of Maryland, respectively.


                    Patricia C. Jessamy

                    Your editorial concluded that Baltimore's high homicide rate is due to
                    a "breakdown of the normal defenses put into place to protect a
                    city's residents: police, prosecutors, courts and corrections

                    While I agree that the criminal justice system is seriously
                    malfunctioning and we all share some of the blame, crime in general
                    -- homicides, specifically -- are the result of far more complicated
                    failures than the criminal justice system.

                    As a community, we must invest resources in prevention, drug
                    treatment and early intervention for at-risk youth.

                    While law enforcement is a response to crime, it can and should be
                    more proactive and offensive rather than reactive and defensive.

                    You acknowledged that David Kennedy has been working in
                    Baltimore for the past 10 months as a part of the Safe and Sound
                    Campaign, a multi-million-dollar drive to create a safer environment
                    for children and youths. What you failed to report is that I am
                    heading the Youth Gun Violence Reduction initiative.

                    I have assembled a team of representatives of law enforcement and
                    criminal justice agencies to work for the success of this initiative.

                    Over the past 10 months, many changes have been implemented,
                    resulting in greater efficiency and effectiveness as we deal with violent

                    Your editorial points to "turf fights," but you did not acknowledge
                    that we are all working together on this very critical criminal justice

                    Your editorial concluded that because arresting police officers
                    generally decide what charges the defendant will face that many
                    officers are overcharging suspects and that prosecutors need to
                    become involved in charging.

                    The Baltimore State's Attorney's Office does charge criminals at the
                    Circuit Court by way of criminal information or indictment. We have
                    nine attorneys who screen felonies at the District Court and handle
                    preliminary hearings.

                    Were these attorneys not so assigned, the problems would be much
                    worse. While I support prosecutorial charging, I also believe that a
                    rule change is necessary. The issue of what happens to defendants
                    who are brought into the Central Booking and Intake Center after an
                    "on view arrest" by police presents numerous legal challenges that
                    Maryland Rule 4-211 does not address. The rule states "when a
                    defendant is arrested without a warrant, the officer who has custody
                    of the defendant shall forthwith cause a statement of charges to be

                    There are no provisions in the rule or imposed by law that allow
                    prosecutorial review or alteration. A proposal is being prepared that
                    would permit prosecutors to charge suspects. If approved, additional
                    staffing and funding would be necessary.

                    As we look at "front end" systemic changes, we are presented with
                    an opportunity to redesign the system from one resembling a "chute,"
                    where everything that comes in is scheduled on valuable court docket
                    time to one resembling a "funnel," where only those matters that need
                    to go to trial are scheduled for trial.

                    There are no simple solutions to complex problems, but there should
                    be short-term and long-term solutions to the very complicated
                    problems of our criminal justice system. Long-term solutions should
                    be well thought out and strategically planned with timetables for
                    design and implementation.

                    Short term, we must reduce the backlog and put procedures into
                    place that prevent violent criminals from being released because they
                    did not get a speedy trial.

                    The State's Attorney's Office is committed to doing that. The courts
                    have agreed to give violent criminals priority for trials and we will
                    make sure this happens. We have also implemented other measures
                    to reduce postponements, to monitor cases more closely and to bring
                    cases to quicker resolution.

                    Patricia C. Jessamy is state's attorney for Baltimore.


                    David B. Mitchell

                    "... the criminal caseload in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City has
                    increased significantly in the last 10 years. In 1989, 14,352 criminal
                    cases were filed. ... Last year, almost 25,000 ... were filed, an
                    increase of over 72 percent. ... In 1989, there were 4,951 new
                    felony defendants. ... In 1998, there were 8,504, an increase again of
                    more than 70 percent. Eighty percent of these felony cases involved

                    This is the assessment Chief Judge Robert M. Bell gave in his State
                    of the Judiciary address. All members of the criminal justice system
                    share responsibility for the problems existing today, and we need to
                    find solutions -- not engage in counterproductive debate about who
                    is responsible.

                    We have implemented a stricter postponement policy, centralized
                    arraignment of felony cases to encourage expedited pleas and early
                    case terminations, and expanded the use of retired judges to resolve
                    the oldest cases first. Already, our new policies have reduced case
                    backlog by 8 percent, and defendants awaiting trial by 7 percent.

                    They have also increased jury trials, expanding the number of citizens
                    called for jury service from 450 to 600 daily. Beginning March 1, 40
                    percent more days will be available for criminal trials, due to the
                    revamped arraignment process. This will further reduce criminal
                    cases awaiting trial.

                    The court is working to improve its case management efficiency. For
                    example, we reinstated the practice of maintaining a list of cases that
                    are ready for trial on the date assigned, but cannot proceed
                    immediately. The status of the trial courts is continually reviewed, and
                    cases from this list are moved into open courtrooms, as they become

                    We attribute our short-term accomplishments to dedicated judges,
                    court personnel, the State's Attorney's Office, the Office of the
                    Public Defender, the private bar and the criminal justice system's

                    Increased case management efficiency alone will not alleviate the
                    backlog of pending criminal cases, nor prevent it from growing. We
                    must address the overwhelming drug-felony caseload in our court.

                    The newly formed criminal justice coordinating council met Feb.17 to
                    discuss additional solutions. From this council will come a dynamic
                    strategic plan for the criminal justice system's future needs.

                    While the judiciary will rely on the coordinating council's
                    recommendations, we recognize that the problem is the judiciary's to
                    solve. We will pursue offers of funding and other assistance
                    benefiting all members of the criminal justice system, ensuring
                    accountability to, and instilling confidence in, the public we serve.

                    Circuit Judge David B. Mitchell supervises Baltimore's criminal


                    Kurt L. Schmoke

                    The homicide problem in Baltimore is complex and long standing.
                    Two factors must be kept in mind before one attempts to reach any
                    conclusions about the policy initiatives that should be implemented to
                    help solve the problem.

                    First, there have been only two years since 1970 in which there were
                    fewer than 200 homicides in Baltimore. That means that even in the
                    years before the crack epidemic gripped this area, a violent
                    subculture existed that viewed resolving problems through force as a
                    first resort rather than as a last resort.

                    Second, the City Health Department estimates that 59,000 drug
                    addicts reside in Baltimore. This means that approximately 1-in-8
                    adults in the city has a serious substance abuse problem and this
                    factor translates into a wide range of other anti-social behaviors that
                    contribute to the homicide problem.

                    Such a complex problem requires a multi-pronged strategy. Public
                    health, criminal justice and court reform all have a role to play.
                    Continuing and expanding the Health Department's drug-abuse
                    control policy is crucial to bringing down the homicide numbers.

                    Adopting innovative policing strategies, such as those used in
                    Cleveland that increase police presence on the streets at times that
                    are less predictable by criminals, are also useful. I recommended the
                    use of Cleveland's traffic-stop policy after a visit to that city last year.
                    This intervention contributed to Cleveland's recording only 77
                    homicides in 1997. Finally, making the court system in the city the
                    most efficient possible is essential to this effort. That is why it is
                    relevant to restate the argument favoring a long overdue reform -- the
                    state takeover of Baltimore's Circuit Court.

                    Most of our citizens are not aware that state government pays for all
                    levels of the court system, save one, the Circuit Court. This is an
                    antiquated funding structure that makes it more difficult for the justice
                    system to speak with one voice and, of course, to bring about the
                    kind of systemic reforms that will be necessary to resolve some of
                    the problems we now face.

                    When the relative wealth of a particular jurisdiction impacts the level
                    of funding for the courts, this has a direct impact on the quality of
                    justice citizens receive. Although we understand that the politics are
                    not easy, the city administration has argued the policy rationale
                    supporting the state assumption of the costs of the Circuit Court for
                    the past 10 years.

                    Our argument continues to be that the court system can improve with
                    a combination of management reforms and additional resources.

                    Finally, Baltimore is taking a multi-pronged approach to resolving its
                    crime problem -- and meeting with a great deal of success. Overall,
                    violent crime in the city has declined substantially since 1994.

                    In addition, we have and will continue to try new strategies to attack
                    the discrete and persistent problem of homicides. Once we have all
                    aspects of the criminal justice system working together, we will see
                    the kind of results that our citizens expect and deserve.

                    Kurt L. Schmoke is mayor of Baltimore.


                    Thomas C. Frazier

                    Over the past five years, the Baltimore Police Department has been
                    firmly committed to reducing incidents of violent crime, removing
                    violent offenders from our communities and improving the overall
                    quality of life here.

                    With active citizens as our partners, we are making significant
                    progress in diminishing our city's crime rate and forging many positive
                    changes in our neighborhoods. During the past three years alone,
                    incidents of violent crime have decreased more than 25 percent, and
                    overall crime is at its lowest point this decade. While these are
                    positive indicators, clearly our work is not finished. Most people are
                    familiar with the problem, violent crime driven by a drug subculture
                    largely targeting its own members.

                    Working within a system stretched beyond capacity, our courts are
                    struggling to manage a greater number of arrests. I continue to
                    support justice system changes. Criminals must be held accountable
                    to effectively decrease violent crime. I have been, and remain,
                    supportive of reforms such as prosecutors taking over the criminal
                    charging function, night court and arraignment court.

                    The shift in the charging function will clearly streamline the criminal
                    justice system. Night and arraignment courts are a must. More
                    violent offenders are being arrested, and we cannot afford a backlog
                    anywhere in the criminal justice process. This urgent issue is now
                    receiving statewide attention, and elected officials, legislators and
                    criminal justice leaders are working together toward positive reform.

                    One of the most important elements in reducing violent crime
                    revolves around effective drug treatment. More treatment slots are
                    needed for those individuals who rely heavily on crime to support
                    their addictions. Unquestionably, crime in Baltimore is narcotic and
                    addiction driven. With the highest addiction rate in the country,
                    effective drug treatment must be a part of the long-term solution for

                    The approach to continue Baltimore's crime reduction is clearly a
                    three-pronged one: effective enforcement, swift prosecution and
                    adjudication as well as additional prevention and treatment
                    opportunities. Now is the time for unwavering commitment,
                    teamwork and positive change.

                    Thomas C. Frazier is Baltimore police commissioner.


                    Martha F. Rasin

                    The Sun has proposed that I institute measures to allow appeals of
                    District Court cases to be based on previous court records to avoid
                    repeated trials. Unfortunately, the required statutory change has
                    repeatedly failed in the legislature. Although it could be quite
                    expensive to implement, the District Court has endorsed the change
                    you recommend.

                    I agree that the District Court should stop requiring that jury requests
                    be made at trial. Ironically, we started the practice at the request of
                    the Circuit Court to help reduce its caseload. Rather than making
                    unilateral changes that would cause chaos for the Circuit Court,
                    several months ago, I went to the Courts' Rules Committee and
                    asked for a safety net rule before I end the practice, and that should
                    be completed soon.

                    I disagree that the District Court's reluctance to move a judge from a
                    busy courtroom in the courthouse into an isolated courtroom in the
                    jail is evidence of a "turf battle."

                    Since the Central Booking and Intake Center opened, there has been
                    continuing cooperation to expedite District Court cases for jailed
                    defendants. Nearly every agency believes that we have had
                    tremendous success and that we are operating at maximum
                    efficiency. Because our goals are not identical, we will not always
                    achieve full satisfaction. The District Court's mission is to resolve all
                    cases fairly and promptly. We have not wanted to sacrifice that goal
                    to save the money gained from empty jail beds. We have offered to
                    hear expedited cases five days a week in our courthouses. To date,
                    only two days have been needed.

                    While we lament the recent problems in Baltimore, we might also
                    note what is positive. Jailed defendants in Baltimore wait less time for
                    their District Court trial dates than in almost any county in Maryland.
                    And nowhere else in the state is there a higher level of cooperation
                    among the entities working to handle misdemeanor criminal cases
                    than that which exists in Baltimore.

                    Martha F. Rasin is chief judge of the District Court of

                    Originally published on Feb 28 1999