It’s a great time for a prosecutor, particular one who checks a couple intersectional boxes and has a burning desire to be popular to a certain political cohort, to do an about face, cry the sad tears of racist execution of law and seek relief for those maligned. Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby saw her chance to be loved and seized it, but two darn judges refused to let her be the hero.
When you send the cops into a particular neighborhood, to target the people who live in that neighborhood, it’s a little disingenuous to complain that the cops did as directed.
In a sweeping legal document, Mosby had asked the judges to throw out about 1,000 marijuana convictions in Circuit Court and nearly 3,800 in District Court.
Sweeney, the district judge, answered with a 10-page decision that noted Mosby fell short in meeting five requirements for such an order. She wrote that Mosby’s document — a writ of coram nobis — skimped on details to show how those convicted faced significant collateral consequences, one of the five requirements.
Judges, like prosecutors, have the authority granted by law. Contrary to popular belief, they aren’t freewheeling avengers of justice, empowered to do whatever you feel is good. You can believe in your truth all you want, as you have no oath to honor and whatever fantasy exists in your head as your working substitute for reality matters to no one but you. But judges?
“With 3,778 opportunities, the State fails to identify any actual single consequence suffered by any of these individuals,” Sweeney wrote.
The judge found the request amounted to a “blatant conflict” because Mosby is bound by oath to defend the state. A writ of coram nobis typically would be brought by a defense attorney.
Sweeney also noted the 3,778 people would be eligible to have their convictions expunged from the records. Since fiscal year 2015, expungements have spiked from 7,700 to more than 19,000 annually in Baltimore, wrote Sweeney, citing court records.
Just because Mosby asked, particularly given that a writ of error is a tool of the defendant, not the prosecution whose actions would be challenged, doesn’t mean a court has to acquiesce. In fairness to Mosby, these are the same judges who typically do whatever the prosecution wants when it comes to the carceral side of the ledger, from bail to trial and sentence, so it’s understandable that Mosby was surprised that her bestest friends turned on her rather than do her bidding. But then, their interests were aligned before. Now, not so much.
Mosby herself had once asked police to crack down on drug dealers and users in West Baltimore in March 2015, the judge wrote.
“Now, this same State’s Attorney claims that drug enforcement in Baltimore City, presumably her own efforts, have had a disparate impact on African-Americans,” Sweeney wrote.
So Mosby was wrong then and wants to correct the error of her ways? There’s nothing wrong with her admitting that she, despite being a black woman, targeted poor black men in West Baltimore, putting the lie to the silly claim that if women ran the joint, it would all be kinder and gentler. They ran it and it was just as bad as anyone else in charge, even if they can get away with pretending they’re some more compassionate species because no one is allowed to call bullshit on a gal these days.
But Judge Kathleen Sweeny did, Circuit Judge W. Michel Pierson did too. Both denied Mosby’s writ, even though it was drenched with her tears of atonement.
“The role that courts play in our society is to be a place of last resort for people who have been wronged,” she wrote. “I am deeply disappointed that this ruling did not afford us any opportunity to present legal arguments and essentially eliminated the court from being a safe harbor for those that were harmed by the discriminatory enforcement of marijuana laws.”
Such sweet words, but not words that apply to the function of a court. Courts aren’t “safe harbors.” If they were, Mosby wouldn’t have gotten away with her years of “discriminatory enforcement of marijuana laws” when it was in her interest to be tough on crime, harsh on the very black men she specifically targeted for arrest and prosecution. Courts don’t “do justice.” Courts do law. Mosby knows this, but she puts out pandering nonsensical statements because her new fans are too blind and ignorant to realize how the system works.
Mosby wanted the courts to be her janitors, cleaning up the mess she created over the years, upon request.
Mosby has argued that marijuana convictions have saddled thousands in Baltimore with criminal records and frustrated their job searches. She has said these arrests disproportionately affected minority neighborhoods in Baltimore.
Nationwide, African-Americans are four times more likely than whites to be arrested for possessing marijuana. The ratio jumps to six times more likely in Baltimore, Mosby wrote in a report about her new marijuana policy.
Did the arrests happen by themselves? Was it some invisible hand that snatched up black guys with some weed in their pockets, while passing over white guys with blunts? This didn’t happen through some virginal miracle that cops stumble, constantly, upon young men in poor minority neighborhoods. It happened because they were told to go there, to make their busts, to fill their quotas. They were told this by Marilyn Mosby.
If prosecutors feel badly about their career choices, there is nothing to prevent them from going to the legislature, confessing the error of their ways and begging that laws be passed to relieve their victims of the burdens they placed around their necks. But if they want a court to do their bidding, they need law to back it up. Instead, Mosby came with sad tears and the same story she laughed at when she was still a carceral prosecutor instead of the hero of social justice.