Police Vs. The Prosecutors

Crime: A Tale Of Two Cities

November 04, 2009|By Mark Hughes | Mark Hughes,The (UK) Independent

Speaking with Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, I was introduced to the strained relationship between police and prosecutors.

Last year the police charged nearly 55,000 people with crimes. Of those, 25,000 were declined by prosecutors or needed substantive changes. With so many cases presenting problems, Jessamy described the relationship between the two institutions as "schizophrenic."

There are two reasons that the charges either do not stick or need to be changed, according to Jessamy.

The first is that officers are arresting and charging people whom they want removed from the streets, but who they know have committed no real offense. The second is that the police, under pressure to hit their clearance rates, charge people when they know the evidence will not withstand the scrutiny of a prosecutor.

In the UK, police officers cannot charge people with crimes. That is the job of the Crown Prosecution Service. The officers make the arrest, interview suspects and witnesses, and gather evidence. Then they must pass the file on to the CPS, which considers whether the case is strong enough to succeed.

This method was introduced to avoid allegations that police officers were charging suspects simply to hit performance targets.

Last year more than 2,800 criminal cases were dropped in Baltimore because a witness failed to appear at court, an indication of intimidation.

In the UK, we have a similar issue. Witnesses are promised protection, which can include relocation and anonymity. They can also give evidence from behind a screen or even via video link where the witness does not have to be in the same place as the defendant. And in the most serious cases, there is the promise of voice-changing techniques, making it harder for the witness to be identified.

Mark Hughes, a crime reporter with The Independent, a national newspaper in the United Kingdom, is visiting Baltimore to see how much the city bears resemblance to "The Wire," which recently aired in Great Britain.

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