Announcing a plan to vacate marijuana convictions, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby has won praise in many quarters for moving the city away from a war-on-drugs law enforcement approach that put thousands in jail for pot possession.
But her office’s petition to vacate 1,050 Circuit Court cases is easier said than done, according to a review by Courthouse News Service.
That’s largely because many convicted of pot possession faced other charges in the same prosecution. CNS’ examination of a random 10% of the cases found:
• The defendants have been arrested, on average, more than 10 times each, with an average of 4.2 criminal convictions.
• Almost half had at least one conviction for a violent crime either prior or subsequent to pleading guilty to pot possession.
• Several defendants were imprisoned for violent crimes and others had serious criminal charges pending.
Many of the cases reviewed started out as drug-dealing cases, which were then plea-bargained down to possession.
“If this sample from Circuit Court is representative, about 480 violent offenders could be getting a break from the city’s prosecutor,” CNS reporter Edward Ericson Jr. wrote.
Ericson zeroes in on several individual cases and checks in with Mosby’s chief deputy, Michael Schatzow, who acknowledged that the process is complicated.
Schatzow conceded that “at some point every case will have to be looked at,” but called the en masse approach “the most resource-sensitive way” to begin.
As for the prospect of freeing people whose convictions include serious charges, Schatzow noted, “Our motion will not affect any conviction for possession of a gun.”
• OP-ED: Mosby’s marijuana policy: More “virtue signaling” that meaningful? (2/11/19)