Friday, October 27, 2006

 

The Anne Arundel AG

The Capitol, the Annapolis paper, has predictably come out for Democrat Frank Weathersbee for Attorney General for Anne Arundel County (HometownAnnapolis.com, Opinion - For state's attorney: Frank Weathersbee)

Fair enough, he’s been in the business for awhile and hasn’t proven to be an outright fraud. But their reasoning comes across as a bit lazy:

“Mr. Fischer contends that Mr. Weathersbee and his staff are to blame for mistakes in some recent, high-profile murder cases. Although some results were disappointing to more than just the prosecutors, the responsibility was as much that of police, judges and juries - or the results came simply from insufficient evidence.”

As a lawyer, I practice from the other side – the Criminal Defense side – and in my experience, the normal route for the prosecution to take when there is “insufficient evidence” is a decision not to prosecute. Otherwise, the people have every right to trust the State believes it has sufficient evidence. Moreover, if the police have somehow hampered prosecutions because of shortcuts taken in the process, it is up to the State, in the guise of the Attorney General’s office, to catch it before it comes up at trial.

“It was a city police officer, for instance, whose flippant remark gave a crucial break to a defendant accused of murdering Annapolitan Straughan Lee Griffin. It was a judge whose decision tossed out a confession crucial to the prosecution's case.”

The case referred to above is a tragic one involving a car-jacking murder in Annapolis. The Maryland Court of Appeals tossed out a confession in the case thus requiring the dropping of the charges against one Leeander Blake. The so-called flippant remark was 28-minutes before the tossed-out confession and the Court’s decision was one that could only come out a group of legal wonks intent on ignoring everyday commonsense. (Maryland v. Blake, Leeander - a good source for related links and info).

Yes, things happen and it’s not always the AG’s fault that appellate courts make ill-advised efforts to come across as scholarly. But the criticism in this matter is not so much that Mr. Weathersbee’s office lost at the appellate level – instead it focuses on the fact that we had a brutal murder in Annapolis, a suspect in custody – and throughout no one from the AG’s office was present at the questioning. That’s a policy decision and certainly fair game for criticism.

(FYI – even though Mr. Blake’s confession was tossed and he was freed, an accomplice was convicted. In August, federal prosecutors got an indictment against Mr. Blake...so we’ll see. U.S. indictment filed in carjacking-killing)

Another case for which Mr. Weathersbee has received a fair amount of criticism involved the death of a teenager allegedly at the hands of 6 others. Noah Jamahl Jones died from injuries he received after a fight broke out in front of a house in Pasadena, Md. on July 24, 2004. The victim was black, the accused were white – you do the math. An all-white jury found one of the accused ‘not guilty’; the cases against the rest were then dropped.

So Mr. Weathersbee has been excoriated for the lack of a conviction in this case – but reading summaries of what happened you have to wonder why the cases were brought in the first place. Did Mr. Weathersbee’s office honestly think they had enough for a conviction? (BAW: Commentary: Maryland Case Shows That If You Start It, Finish It – Don’t Cry Racism) The Justice Department then looked onto the case but concluded there were no charges to bring (with the predictable race-baiting response from our very own Barbara Mikulski: Mikulski Responds to DOJ Decision on Noah Jamahl Jones Case). End result – no one has been accountable for Mr. Jones’s death…and that doesn’t sit well with many.

I can only conclude that Mr. Weathesbee brought this case because, politically, he felt he had to. In doing so, he gave unrealistic hope to Mr. Jones’s family that there would be some sort of legal retribution while at the same time expending state resources in an unsure cause. That’s not leadership, that’s pandering and again fair game for criticism.

Using the Capitol’s reasoning, almost any lack of success encountered by a prosecutorial team can be chalked up to bad luck in the assignment of police, judge and/or jury. But maybe it’s time to rephrase the old line: Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for Frank Weathersbee.

(Full disclosure: I attended law school with David Fischer, who is the Republican candidate facing Mr. Weathersbee)


Comments:
"As a lawyer, I practice from the other side – the Criminal Defense side – and in my experience, the normal route for the prosecution to take when there is “insufficient evidence” is a decision not to prosecute."

A conservative criminal defense attorney. Never heard of one before. Thought I ought to make your acquaintance in case your species goes extinct. ;)

P.S. Nice analysis here.
 
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