Baltimore to permanently halt prosecution of ‘low-level’ crimes like prostitution, drug possession

Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced that some emergency changes in Maryland’s criminal laws to accommodate the coronavirus pandemic last year are now going to become permanent.

Crimes considered low-level offenses, such as drug possession and prostitution, were decriminalized in the state last year in a purported attempt to reduce the number of inmates in jails as the COVID-19 pandemic escalated. Last week, Mosby announced that the move has been a success and that the minor crimes will no longer be prosecuted permanently.

“The policies enacted over the past year have resulted in a decrease in arrests, no adverse impact on the crime rate, and address the systemic inequity of mass incarceration,” a press release from the state’s attorney’s office announced last week.

“Therefore, the State’s Attorney also announced today the permanent adoption of these policies as we continue to prioritize the prosecution of public safety crimes over low-level, non-violent offenses,” it continued, referring to the experiment known as The Covid Criminal Justice Policies.


(Video: WMAR-2)

“Today, America’s war on drug users is over in the city of Baltimore. We leave behind the era of tough-on-crime prosecution and zero tolerance policing and no longer default to the status quo to criminalize mostly people of color for addiction,” Mosby said in a statement. “We will develop sustainable solutions and allow our public health partners to do their part to address mental health and substance use disorder.”

It is to be noted that Mosby and her husband, a city councilman, are currently facing a federal investigation into her campaign finances and his finances.

Minor traffic violations, drug and drug paraphernalia possession, prostitution and trespassing, as well as urinating and defecating in public are among the crimes no longer being prosecuted. The press release noted that, under the policy in the past year, the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office dismissed more than 1,400 pending cases and eliminated more than 1,400 warrants for these type of offenses.

“There is no public safety value in prosecuting these offenses,” the press release noted, adding that prosecuting them “would be counterproductive given the limited resources.”

“These offenses are often discriminately enforced and thus hinder equity in, and breed mistrust of, the criminal justice system,” the release read.

“Clearly, the data suggest there is no public safety value in prosecuting low-level offenses,” Mosby said at a news conference on Friday.

The press release also claimed that violent crime is down 20% and property crime is down 36%.

“The results of these policies have been nothing short of successful. According to data from the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, the overall incarcerated population in Baltimore City is down 18% during COVID and the data reveals there has been a 39% decrease in people entering the criminal justice system compared to this time last year,” the press release noted.

“Clearly prosecuting low-level offenses with no public safety value is counterproductive to the limited law enforcement resources we have,” Mosby said. “When the courts open next month, I want my prosecutors working with the police and focused on violent offenses, like armed robbery, carjacking cases and drug distribution organizations that are the underbelly of the violence in Baltimore, not using valuable jury trial time on those that suffer from addiction.”

The decision has already sparked criticism and ignited fears in residents.

“It’s not going to deter crime, it’s going to make it go the other way,” Daryl Buhrman, President of the Retired Police Officer’s Association in Baltimore, told WBFF-TV. “It’s going to enable people to be free to do other things.”

“Prosecutors take an oath to uphold the constitution in the state of Maryland and the constitution says the general assembly sets the policy, not the prosecutors,” state Sen. Robert Cassilly told WBFF. “I respect the whole prosecutorial discretion. That’s not prosecutorial discretion, that’s an exercise in legislating. That’s what the legislature is supposed to do.”

Asked about sending the wrong message to the community, effectively appearing to say that lawlessness will be tolerated, Mosby referred to “data.”

“I say follow the data,” she said. “So, what we’ve been able to prove in the past year is that crime has decreased.”

“When it comes to those violent offenses: car jackings, murders, armed robberies, attempted murders and drug distribution, we are still prosecuting you,” Mosby said. “The police will still arrest you.”

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Frieda Powers

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