It is unfortunate that given the tremendous spike in violence in Baltimore that the Judiciary refuses to participate in a community discussion of the issue.
Hogan calls for ‘truth in sentencing’ as judges are tried in absentia
By Bryan P. Sears In The Daily Record
Gov. Larry Hogan said he will propose a criminal justice package in the coming legislative session that will include what he called a “truth in sentencing” bill in an effort to address violent crime in Baltimore City.
The governor announced his intent following a meeting with city, state and federal officials who are members of the Baltimore City Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. But it was who didn’t attend that raised the eyebrows and ire of Hogan and others who, through their post-meeting comments, gave the impression that the judiciary was tried in absentia.
Hogan called the absence of the judges “quite baffling and frankly very disappointing.”
“They are members of this council,” Hogan said. “The purpose of it is to discuss the criminal justice system. My focus on the meeting what we can all do collectively — from federal, state and local agencies everywhere in the process — to do something about this out-of-control violent crime and murder situation in the city.”
An aid to Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera said she was not available for comment.
Barbera, in an Aug. 18 letter to Hogan, explained the judges could not attend the meeting, saying it would potentially violate the Maryland Code of Judicial Conduct, which bars judges from commenting on proceedings or potential cases and requires them to “not be swayed by public clamor or fear of criticism.”
Hogan described the meeting as a sometimes heated discussion with members engaged in frank discussions.
One item not discussed was Hogan’s decision to move forward with what he called “truth in sentencing” legislation for the 2018 session.
“One of my biggest concerns is that we have repeat violent offenders, sometimes with an average of 11 or 13 convictions, who are not being sentenced to jail once they are convicted of a violent crime,” Hogan said. “We have, in some cases for repeat violent offenders, mandatory minimum sentences but we have sentences that are being handed down that they’re waiving — let’s say it’s a five-year minimum sentence — we’ll give you five years but we’re going to waive it all and give you probation.”
Hogan said “that is not acceptable.”
“We keep putting the same exact violent offenders on the streets,” Hogan said. “The average person killed in Baltimore City has 11.9 arrests on their record. One minute they’re the shooter, the next day they’re the victim. It’s the same people shooting each other and we’ve got to get them off the streets.”
Hogan gave few details of his legislation other than to say “If you say you’re going to get this number of years then you’re going to get that number of years, and this is for repeat violent crimes.”
Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh described Hogan as “a little disturbed because none the judges showed up and he wanted to talk about violence reduction in the city and how everybody could work together to reduce violence in the city.”
“He said the judges need to have a conversation because what we found is that there are too many suspended sentences and we have repeat offenders continuing to walk the streets of our city,” said Pugh.
One item that was discussed was a request by Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby to add two additional positions for cross-designated federal prosecutors. Mosby also said she asked for additional funding for victim witness services to address the “stop snitching mentality.”
“For far too long, victims and witnesses, you know, don’t feel comfortable coming forward. A lot of these acts of violence are taking place in broad daylight and people aren’t coming forward,” Hogan’s announcement came as news to some other attendees including Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, who said Hogan’s proposal was not part of the discussion and declined to comment saying he did not know details of the undrafted legislation.
Frosh, for his part, said judges do have a role to play in discussions about how to deal with crime in the city but there are limits.
“I don’t think it’s necessary (for judges to attend),” Frosh said. “They are supposed to be the impartial folks who make the determinations. They play a role in the administration of the courts. To that extent, (attendance is) useful.”
Frosh said the focus of Tuesday’s meeting “seemed to be sentencing that judges are giving and that, I do not think, is appropriate for the judges to participate in.”
Baltimore City Police Commissioner Kevin Davis laid at least some of the blame on the court house steps, saying too many violent offenders are getting out too soon and then being re-arrested for additional violent crimes.
City police, in an internal document tracking the sentences of more than 600 violent criminals between January 2016 and July 9, 2017, found that 60 percent of those found guilty had over half of their sentence suspended. The department, in an email to the media, noted that 105 people were arrested twice on handgun related charges. Seven others were arrested three times.
Davis compared the judiciary to clean up hitters who don’t drive in runs.
“I think when we find ourselves at third base in the criminal justice system we have to count on our judiciary, when people are convicted by judge or by jury, to hold people accountable for their actions,” Davis said.
When asked if judges were the ones who had to come up with a hit and bring home the runner on third, Davis said: “I think so.”