Child with STD points to issue of lax judges

May 14, 2010

Peter Hermann's story "Child sex suspect a repeat offender" (May 14) reminds us of several aspects of chronic dysfunction in criminal justice in our state, and especially in our city.

Let's start with this suspect's parole. We are told that "he was paroled in March after having served 19 months in prison." Although parole assessment guidelines classify drug-selling as "nonviolent," this man had a 2007 manslaughter conviction. There has to be something wrong with paroling him so soon, or at all, with this kind of prior record. As one who spent 20 years working with inmates in Maryland prisons, I suggest that no one take the Parole Commission's word for it that a parole "within guidelines," as Mr. Hermann was told, is also a parole within reason.

Judge Timothy Doory's disposition of the violation of probation in this case is standard practice in Baltimore City. If you visit any city Circuit Court judge on his or her "collateral day," that is, when he or she is hearing violations of probation, you will be amazed at how blithely the violations, the original crimes and the criminal histories of the offenders are discounted in order to clear the docket and get rid of the case.

Judge Doory once was a tough prosecutor. But these sentencing practices are so pervasive and so encouraged by administrative judges that even he has capitulated. Note that the other judge, John Glynn, who was remarkably kind to this suspect, was once the administrator of the Circuit Court's criminal docket.

To my mind, Baltimore City judges, with few exceptions, buy into two mistaken notions: That drug offenses are not really crimes; and that, since so many black men are arrested and convicted for drugs, that sending them to prison for such offenses bears a heavy taint of racism. And yet we all know that most of the murders that take place in the city, with their preponderate toll of black victims, are the result of drug disputes.

I hope The Sun will pay attention to these sentencing practices during this year's political campaigns. One of the Circuit Court judges who must stand for re-election is Martin Welch. He is a fine and honorable man who runs a dignified courtroom, but he is also a notoriously lenient sentencer, even on collateral day.

Harold Riedl

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