John Greiber's New Math

October 07, 1994

John R. Greiber Jr., the Republican candidate for Anne Arundel County state 's attorney, is nothing if not energetic. He's firing off so many complicated numbers designed to blast incumbent Frank Weathersbee as soft on crime that it is hard for a statistician -- much less an ordinary voter -- to figure out whether he knows what he's talking about. After studying his first few news releases, we are less than convinced.

Consider his figures showing that the number of Circuit Court cases is dropping while arrests are rising -- numbers that he contends should match. On the surface, this might seem to make sense. But, comparing Circuit Court cases to arrests is comparing apples to oranges. Mr. Greiber "would be hard-pressed to find any jurisdiction where those numbers match," says Joseph I. Cassilly, the veteran Republican state's attorney in Harford County. "It's just crazy," for a variety of reasons. Here are the two most important:

First, most arrests -- for misdemeanors such as driving while intoxicated -- are resolved in District Court and never get to Circuit Court. Second, many arrests do not translate into viable cases. Sometimes, the prosecutor finds an arrest is not supported by the evidence. Sometimes, an arrest is a mistake. In June, county police arrested a man who had parked at a light-rail station and returned to find a ticket and "no parking" sign that wasn't there when he arrived. He took the sign to a police station -- and was additionally charged with malicious destruction. Later, the police found he was right and dropped the charges. Using Mr. Greiber's logic, he should have simply been prosecuted.

In the same vein, Mr. Greiber accuses Mr. Weathersbee of letting offenders walk out of District Court, where 42 percent of the cases are dropped or put on an inactive docket. But in all counties a large percentage of District Court cases never go to trial (40 percent in Baltimore County and 54 percent in Prince George's, for example). This is largely because many citizens file charges in District Court without police involvement, change their minds and ask that they be dropped.

The fact that Mr. Greiber's numbers do not always work does not mean Mr. Weathersbee is as tough a prosecutor as he should be. But it does raise questions about how well the challenger understands the criminal justice system.

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