Imagine that the police allege that you committed an extremely “high profile” violent act against someone. The victim’s attorney and the public are demanding that you are immediately stripped of your liberty and charged with the crime. Because you believe that you are innocent, you don’t want the charges filed by the prosecutor evaluating the case. You are praying that the screening process is fair. Immediately after the prosecutor’s alleged “thorough and independent investigation,” she decides to file charges against you. While questioning the fairness of the process, you then learn that the victim’s attorney donated thousands of dollars to the prosecutor’s campaign. He even served on her transition committee. Additionally, it comes to light that your prosecutor is married to a high profile councilman who represents the people from the jurisdiction where the crime allegedly occurred and from where the victim resides. Does this process seem fair? Does the prosecutor give off the image of impropriety?
The facts presented in the hypothetical above mirror those present in the high profile Baltimore criminal case involving six police officers, each charged with offenses relating to their alleged mistreatment of Freddie Gray. The prosecutor Marilyn Mosby, who made the decision to file serious criminal charges against the officers, did accept $5,000 in campaign donations from the victim’s family attorney William Murphy. He also worked with her on her transition committee. Her husband, Nick Mosby is a city councilman who represents the people from the jurisdiction where the crimes allegedly occurred. Additionally, the victim was one of his constituents.
Anyone who doesn’t think that, at a minimum, there’s the image of impropriety is either naive or being intellectually dishonest. If you, or someone you love were faced with similar facts, you’d be passionately crying foul. If the same allegations were made about a judge presiding over these defendants’ criminal case, the judge would most certainly have to recuse him/herself. I’m not suggesting that the charges weren’t warranted. They may have been, however, see some of my concerns: https://www.floridacriminaldefenselawyerblog.com/2015/05/baltimore-criminal-case-not-a-slam-dunk.html I’m also not suggesting that Mrs. Mosby can’t be fair. What I’m simply pointing out is that if there was another prosecutor who was more “independent” and free from the above described relationships, the process would have to be perceived as more fair. I still don’t see the down side in bringing in an independent prosecutor to review Mrs. Mosby’s charging decisions.
I’ve learned from first hand experience that prosecuting cases is not an easy job. What’s extremely challenging is determining what conduct is and isn’t criminal. Also difficult is determining what specific charges, if any, should be levied that fairly and appropriately reflect the crime(s) committed. Filing decisions made by prosecutors are almost always scrutinized and often criticized. Because of that, it’s imperative to ensure that the process is as free from the image of impropriety as possible. Unfortunately, in the Baltimore case, the process appears to be tainted. An independent prosecutor reviewing the charges would go a long way towards eliminating that cloud of impropriety that currently hangs over this case.