Marilyn Mosby: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Baltimore’s State Attorney Marilyn Mosby, the one person who brought calm to Baltimore in the aftermath of last week’s riots, now faces a slew of criticism from an angry press.

After Mosby read the charges against the six Baltimore Police Officers (including second-degree murder, manslaughter, and second-degree assault), citizens of Baltimore celebrated in the streets. What was originally scheduled to be a protest quickly turned into a “victory rally” in light of Mosby’s announcement.

But Mosby’s decision despite its many similarities to many other criminal cases is now raising eyebrows and drawing questions from some people.

As Baltimore slowly regains its normalcy after a week of unrest, the press is finding reasons to attack Mosby’s prosecuting strategy. Specifically, many people have come out and said they find the second-degree murder charge (filed only against Officer Caesar R. Goodson Jr.) to be excessive, and that all of the charges were filed in haste. Even David Jaros, an associate professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law, admits that the charges may be an overreach. However, in an interview with the Atlantic, he insists this is not an uncommon practice among prosecutors.

“This is something prosecutors do all the time, as a strategic choice, for various reasons,” Jaros explains, “and it’s ironic that suddenly the [Fraternal Order of Police] is up in arms over this.”

Prior to the announcement of the charges filed against the six officers, Fraternal Order of Police president Gene Ryan urged Mosby to remove herself from the case, citing in his letter Mosby’s personal connection to the case and her marriage to councilman Nick Mosby.

However, Ryan’s public support for the officers implies a bias of his own: “Not one of the officers involved in this tragic situationare responsible for the death of Mr. Gray.” This language raises more concern about Ryan’s partiality than Mosby’s.

Jaros goes on to give potential reason for Mosby’s line of charging. According to the professor, “[prosecutors] know that [the case is] going to go through a plea-bargaining process. It’s also true that juries sometimes compromise, so if they’re going to compromise, you stake out a strong position and then you settle for what you thought was appropriate in the first place.”

The only difference in this case is who the defendants are. According to the professor, the habit of overreaching needs to be addressed in cases all across the board, saying “we can’t be concerned about [overreaching] only in the cases involving police officers.”

Other special treatment for the police officers has already been in discussion, particularly where the trial should take place. Naturally, a fair trial would be hard to obtain in the city where Freddie Gray was murdered. However, Jaros cites the Boston bombing case against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to compare how someone not a member of law enforcement is treated in the same circumstance:

It’s ironic that we hear people talking about, Well, they’re going to have to change the venue, because how could these officers get a fair trial here in Baltimore the same week that the marathon bomber Tsarnaev in Boston is being prosecuted and tried for murder in the city that was so deeply damaged by the bombing. It’s not to say that these officers don’t deserve a venue change and to have their personal criminal cases unaffected by political intereststhey do. But we should have that concern in every case.

Jaros believes the criticism Mosby currently faces from the press is manifesting far too early and only stems from the identity of the defendants. He urges those who believe the charges are an overreach to let the facts unfold, just like in every other case. “There’s still an investigation going on,” Jaros reminds the press. “There’s still the possibility that one of the officers involved will strike a plea and we’ll learn a lot more about the facts.”

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