Last week the Baltimore City State’s Attorney made headlines for publicly directing her prosecutors to dismiss numerous non-violent cases. The cases that will be dismissed involve defendants who are arrested on new charges in Baltimore City during these extremely unique times. The charges specifically mentioned by the State’s Attorney include CDS drug possession, prostitution, trespassing, attempted distribution of CDS, open container, traffic citations, rogue and vagabond and urinating in public. It is important to understand that anyone who has already been charged with these offenses will not simply get a pass when their case eventually is scheduled for trial. The directive only applies to the prosecutors that are working in the Central Booking jail facility, which means only defendants taken to jail will have their cases dropped.
At first glance the press release makes it seem like the Baltimore City prosecutor is softening up on non-violent crime in these trying times, but in reality the purpose of the directive seems to be aimed at reducing the population at central booking. Police officers are now on notice that if they arrest a defendant for certain non-violent offenses, their work will be in vain. But arresting a suspect for a non-violent crime is hardly the norm these days, nor should it be. Police in Baltimore City can still detain individuals for drug possession, trespassing, prostitution and for breaking into cars (rogue and vagabond), but they will have to charge those suspects by issuing a citation or a summons to appear in court. For the time being in Baltimore City, it will be catch and release for most non-violent offenders.
This press release came a few months after the State’s Attorney had already directed her prosecutors to dismiss all marijuana possession cases. She has received pushback for ignoring the legislative process by choosing not to prosecute certain laws, so it’s easy to see why the critics might be jumping up and down about this news. A Baltimore mayoral candidate called the directive a PR stunt and insinuated that the prosecutor is abusing her power. In a less direct criticism, the Carroll County State’s Attorney publicly stated that his office would continue to enforce all Maryland laws, and that no suspect would be given a free pass. He also went on to state that his office will continue to prosecute any violations of the governor’s temporary executive orders, which among other things closed down gyms, restaurants for dining in, bars and prohibits gatherings of more than 10 people. Any violation of these and potential future executive orders could result in a jail sentence of up to 1 year and a $5,000 fine.