Character matters, especially with a city’s chief prosecutor.
Nothing makes this clearer than Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s controversial decision to try Keith Davis Jr. for the fifth time on the same charge of murdering a Pimlico security guard, despite two previous trials overturned and two convictions overturned in the weak case against Mr. Davis. His office’s recent attempt to move the trial, scheduled for May, out of town only adds to the questionable nature of his decision.
All states allow defendants to request location changes, but not all allow prosecutors to request location changes to ensure “fairer” trials for the state. Maryland does, but it’s rarely used. By invoking the option, Ms. Mosby is in effect asking the court to send the case somewhere where she will have a better chance of convicting Mr. Davis. Given the tortured history of the case, it smacks of a desperate desire to win and suggests Ms Mosby is motivated by more than the impartial pursuit of justice.
Ivan Bates, who is running to unseat Ms Mosby, believes the case should be thrown out as requested in a motion filed by Mr Davis’s lawyer, saying personal animosity was behind Ms’ decision Mosby to try the case again. Mr Bates said the public needs to be convinced that prosecutors are not using the criminal justice system as a “weapon of revenge”.
Mr. Bates talks about character. A prosecutor’s moral values determine whether the prosecutor makes decisions based on law and facts, or on improper considerations, such as personal animosity.
There were also concerns about her motives in 2015 when, after a hasty and inadequate investigation, she announced criminal charges against six Baltimore police officers following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody. None have been convicted.
The second-degree murder charge against Officer Caesar Goodson Jr. was particularly troubling. A city judge acquitted him of the charge, chastising prosecutors for the lack of evidence to support charges that Officer Goodson “manhandled.” There was no evidence that he acted negligently, much less with a “depraved heart” as alleged.
Ms Mosby announced the charges against the officers to a cheering audience as she stood on the steps of the War Memorial Building with TV cameras rolling. She built up the drama with a long speech culminating in an account of the accusations. Nothing grabs the attention of a justice-seeking crowd quite like the word “murder,” and there were audible gasps when she said it.
Ms Mosby has been credited with defusing the protests by bringing charges. She jumped into the national spotlight as a young, progressive prosecutor promising to free the innocent, reduce over-incarceration and hold bad cops accountable.
But the acclaim came at the cost of an unjust murder charge that hung over the head of a 45-year-old police officer for more than a year. Officer Goodson has been described as a non-confrontational officer, family man and friendly neighbor – hardly deserving of such treatment. Was the decision that submitted him to it based on the law and the facts or on abusive considerations, such as personal ambition?
Ms Mosby faces her own trial in May, accused of lying on a series of documents in order to make an early withdrawal from her retirement account and borrow money to buy two investment properties in Florida. Ms Mosby denies the charges. If true, however, they relate directly to his character.
The character cannot be compartmentalized, activated and deactivated depending on the situation. Either you are a character or you are not. Does anyone really believe that public officials who engage in lying, cheating or theft in their personal financial affairs can be trusted to act ethically in the exercise of their official duties?
I don’t know if the federal prosecutors’ decision to indict Ms. Mosby was influenced by the fact that she holds a high office and makes decisions that have an extraordinarily profound impact on people’s lives. If so, so much the better.
There may be jobs where a person’s character is not of the utmost importance. Being Baltimore City’s state attorney isn’t one of them. Ask Keith Davis or Caesar Goodson.
David Plymyer retired as Anne Arundel County District Attorney in 2014. He also served as an Assistant State’s Attorney for five years. His email is email@example.com; Twitter: @dplymyer.