Do the city's judges deserve the blame for system's...


February 28, 2000

Do the city's judges deserve the blame for system's failure?

It is true, as The Sun has reported, that Baltimore's criminal justice system has glaring weaknesses, that funerals of slain public servants and beloved citizens constitute calls to action and that the mayor is right to say so.

Less commendable is the scapegoating that has focused upon the city's judges.

Sound criminal justice administration anywhere is not just one function, but rather a human chain of many links.

It runs from arrest (with real crime investigation), to bail review (with representation and pretrial services), to competent prosecution and defense, and, finally, to thoughtful judicial disposition (on plea or trial) with appropriate support.

The Baltimore City judges at least have been working on their aspect of the problem for more than a year, with undeniable improvements in place.

What about other links in the chain?

Is full investigation and prosecution of violent crime now assured?

Will we now have sufficient (and sufficiently trained) parole and probation officers for the first time since crack cocaine exploded the crime numbers?

At long last, is the criminal justice system now to receive the drug treatment facilities so necessary to slow the revolving door of drug abuse?

The good news is that, with citizen and governmental focus and unprecedented state and federal surpluses, we now have the best opportunity for real progress in this first duty of government since the crime crisis began.

Is every element of the system willing to step up and do its part?

Jervis S. Finney, Baltimore

The writer is president of the Criminal Justice Administration Institute.

Mayor O'Malley's criticism of state and federal judges is misplaced ("O'Malley insists funds for courts be delayed," Feb. 12.)

Judges are not part of a "team" to combat crime. Judges are independent officers whose difficult job is to balance the rights of the government and of the accused, in conformance with the Constitution.

The federalization, of crime has not resulted in delay of federal criminal cases in this area. (It has delayed the civil docket.) "Dangerous" persons awaiting trial in the federal system are detained in jail.

While state and federal prosecutors publicly decry lenient sentences, they privately urge judges to reward career criminal informants with small or no prison sentences. Prosecutors use freedom as currency to pay for testimony.

Sentencing decisions involve complex goals of deterrence, rehabilitation, punishment and segregation of dangerous criminals. There is no evidence that any judge in our region engages in behavior to permit or promote criminal activity.

It is unfair to condemn the judiciary as the cause of crime in the region.

Clark F. Ahlers, Columbia

Chief judge has no reason to boast

Who is this guy, Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals Robert M. Bell?

A backlog of 50,000 cases, convicted criminals out on the street killing cops, and he says he's doing a good job ("City court system boasts of making progress in 1999," Jan. 27).

Can judges be impeached?

Saul Levickas, Baltimore

Sanctions may be needed to stop executions of children

I am very saddened and very angry to learn that among the 38 states that retain the death penalty, 23 allow it for children under the age of 18 ("A nation's shame: children on death row," Opinion Commentary, Feb. 21).

It makes me very ashamed of our U.S. Senators that the majority of them refuse to ratify the 10-year-old U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which forbids the death penalty for persons under 18, as well as of the state politicians who support such executions.

It makes me even more ashamed that some of these politicians are not even above executing retarded people.

I agree with law professors Stephen Harper and Steven Drizin that perhaps the only road to change is to "borrow a page from the U.S. play book when it comes to human rights violators -- exert economic pressure through sanctions."

Irwin H. Desser, Baltimore

`America's game' ought to respect the Constitution

In response to the recent letter "John Rocker's rights haven't been violated" (Feb. 22), I'd note that every citizen is protected by the Constitution, no matter whom he or she works for.

And Mr. Rocker was not working at the time of his Sports Illustrated interview.

Major League Baseball enjoys freedoms that other businesses do not, (from anti-trust laws, for instance) but it is still bound by the Constitution.

If baseball is America's game, then it can abide by America's Constitution

Tim Wright, Pasadena

Bush's vacuous campaign shows decline of politics

I was amused by The Sun's editorial "Bickering Republicans turn to Michigan" (Feb. 22), which commented "substance, not name-calling, could prove most effective in wooing voters" on Super Tuesday.

It certainly had no effect in South Carolina and I wouldn't anticipate any change.

What The Sun appears to have missed is that Texas Gov. George W. Bush has no substance.

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