Baltimore begins nullifying nearly 800 bad-cop convictions

Baltimore continues to pay a high price for the sorts of police corruption and misconduct on display in the Gun Trace Task Force scandal. Part of that price is that convictions need to be thrown out, even in cases where a real crime may have been committed and not all the evidence was tainted. From the Sun:

“When you have sworn police officers involved in egregious and long-standing criminal activity such as planting guns and drugs, stealing drugs and money, selling drugs, making illegal arrests, and bringing false charges, our legal and ethical obligation in the pursuit of justice leaves us no other recourse but to ‘right the wrongs’ of unjust convictions associated with corrupt police officers,” Mosby wrote in an email.

And if you think maybe we could get fuller disclosure of police disciplinary proceedings so that problems might be headed off before they reach the stage of massive scandal, well, good luck with that.

More from the Abell Foundation: “Baltimore Police Department: Understanding its status as a state agency”:

The Baltimore Police Department became a State Agency 158 years ago in response to the rise of the Know-Nothing Party in Baltimore City. By 1860, the Know-Nothing Party had taken complete political control of Baltimore City, relying on violence and coercion. The Maryland General Assembly reached the conclusion that the City and Mayor had proven themselves incapable of maintaining order in the City of Baltimore and accordingly enacted Public Local Laws making the Baltimore Police Department a State Agency.

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Got no use for logical cops

Sentences worth pondering, from coverage of the U.S. Department of Justice’s employment-practices suit against Baltimore County: “The exams tested reading, grammar, logic and other skills that the suit alleges are not related to the job of being a police officer or police cadet.” Critics take heart, however: “County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. issued a statement saying the police department has discontinued the test.” [Pamela Wood and Wilborn P. Nobles III, Baltimore Sun] (cross-posted from Overlawyered)

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“Country Roads” and Maryland

Today I learned [via Lori Wysong, WETA “Boundary Stones”]: “Country Roads” was written after a drive along then-rural Clopper Road in Montgomery County, but songwriters Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert couldn’t get “Maryland” to scan and swapped in “West Virginia,” a state in which they’d never set foot. And then they shared it with John Denver….

It’s often been pointed out that the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah River, both mentioned in the song, are much more closely associated with Virginia than with West Virginia. I’d explained those to myself as being landmarks that the singer passed and felt warmly about while driving home to West Virginia from points east. Either way, imagine a future archaeologist trying to reconstruct the geography of the area with only this song to go on.

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In miniature, September 22

  • “Maryland Court of Appeals Will Hear Challenge to Baltimore’s Food Truck Rules” [Andrew Wimer, IJ press release]
  • Four of eight members of Maryland House delegation (Reps. Raskin, Cummings, Sarbanes, Brown) would eliminate private health insurance [Allison Stevens, Maryland Matters]
  • A view from the Left: “Why I support single-member districts” [Richard DeShay Elliott]
  • Maryland legislature should address outcome of Court of Appeals case in which 16 year old girl was brought up on child pornography distribution charges for “sexting” video of herself engaged in sex that was both consensual and legal [David Post, Volokh Conspiracy]
  • Ban on foam packaging “did not encourage” staying around: Dart Container closing Carroll, Harford County warehouse and distribution centers [Jon Kelvey, Carroll County Times, earlier on polystyrene bans here, here]
  • Looking for an alternative to the pro-secessionist lyrics in “Maryland, My Maryland”? There’s a competing Unionist version [Todd Eberly, Free Stater last year]

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My Washington Post letter on Maryland’s red flag law

My letter to the editor at the Washington Post last month on red flag gun laws:

August 13, 2019

Red flag’ laws can have deadly consequences

The Aug. 9 front-page article “Results of ‘red flag’ gun laws uneven across 17 states, D.C.” quoted critics of Maryland’s “red flag” gun-confiscation law who find the law lacking on due process grounds. It might also have mentioned another kind of collateral damage done by the law this past November in its second month of operation, namely the death of 61-year-old Gary J. Willis of Glen Burnie, shot dead by Anne Arundel County police who had come to his door at 5 a.m. to present an order to confiscate his guns. Willis answered the door with a gun in his hand. He set it down but then became angry, picked up the gun, and, in an ensuing scuffle with an officer over the weapon, it went off without striking anyone. A second officer then shot Willis dead.

In the aftermath, because of confidentiality rules, neither press nor public could view the red-flag order that had set police on the fatal encounter. Defending the shooting afterward, the county’s police chief described any possible threat from Willis to others in the vaguest of terms, telling the Capital Gazette, “We don’t know what we prevented or could’ve prevented.” Family member Michele Willis, speaking to the Baltimore Sun, took a different view: “I’m just dumbfounded right now,” she said. “My uncle wouldn’t hurt anybody. … They didn’t need to do what they did.”

Walter Olson, New Market

It is true that in principle “red flag” laws can draw on the same respectable historic taproots of judicial power as, e.g., domestic violence restraining orders. [David French, National Review] One problem with that is that it’s not clear the current use of domestic restraining orders inspires confidence, due-process-wise. In two posts last month (firstsecond) Jacob Sullum, who also cites the work of Dave Kopel, critically examines the shortcomings of the red flag gun laws enacted so far, while California lawyer Donald Kilmer looks at his state’s existing law. [cross-posted from Overlawyered]

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In miniature, August 26

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Notes from the MACo summer conference

I was glad to attend the Maryland Association of Counties conference in Ocean City this past week, a grand opportunity to catch up with old friends and meet new ones. I attended sessions on topics from the 2020 census to affordable housing, and took some running notes in the form of the tweets below.

One of the most talked-of sessions was the town hall featuring Ben Cardin, Maryland’s senior U.S. senator. Cardin has a reputation as one of the more cautiously spoken and temperate members of the Democratic caucus, and some of his comments indeed struck a centrist tone:

On firearms, Cardin forthrightly sides with liberals, and mentioned that he and his wife were soon to attend what he called an “anti-gun rally” in Baltimore:

What really lifted me out of my chair was when a questioner asked about redistricting and Cardin said “don’t blame the Maryland legislature” for gerrymandering. It would be “naive.” Yes, he stood right there before a bipartisan audience and said that.

I had a back-and-forth with Todd Eberly about it:

On First Amendment issues, unfortunately, Cardin stuck to a theme that free speech should not be seen as unlimited. He sounded the alarm about foreign interference in elections and jumped directly to a scheme to outfit social media with legally mandated “guardrails”:

MACo posts big signs saying that it’s a nonpartisan group and campaigning at the event is forbidden, but as Danielle Gaines noted afterward at Maryland Matters, audience members during Q&A ignored this, especially after one questioner referred to the present Senate majority leader as “Moscow Mitch”:

For most of the panels I attended, however, audience questions provided helpful focus. At the session on agritourism, for example, one audience member offered a cautionary tale from Anne Arundel County: well- meaning nonfarmers drew up rules laying out rules for many activities that farmers have been doing since time immemorial, such as hosting community picnics. Regulation got worse.

Apparently the electrified third rail of agritourism politics is “the W word” — farmhouse weddings. Heaven forbid people should get married and be happy if it means more vehicle traffic!

The food safety and packaging regulation panel included a discussion of how the state’s modest new cottage-food law opens up room for home-kitchen providers of a relatively short list of super-safe products, including cookies, jams (but not pickles), and baked goods. There may be some connection here with MACo’s celebrated “Taste of Maryland” reception, in which cookies, along with locally made beer and wine, were the stars. (I liked Cynthia Ann Desserts’s Black-Eyed Susan shortbread cookies at the Charles County booth.) A long line snaked up to the booth of Talbot County, which more ambitiously than its sister counties offered oysters on the half shell.

The Q&A at the food safety panel also led to a back-and-forth on the regulation of kids’ lemonade stands. Jessica Speaker, an assistant commissioner with the Baltimore City Health Department, had some warnings:

The discussion of the state’s Styrofoam ban seemed to take for granted that it would be the jumping-off point for many further restrictions in years to come:

State pre-emption of local legislative power is the sort of topic I really warm to (and talked back on):

While I disagreed with some of the policy perspectives (as I expected to), the conference was an invaluable chance to learn about multiple and varied aspects of Maryland government up close.

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Montgomery County eases building of accessory dwelling units

As population and the job base in the Washington, D.C. area continue to expand, households face a crunch in the price of housing, made worse by the reluctance of local governments to permit residential construction near most of the major employment centers. A unanimous county council in Montgomery County, Md. has now made it slightly easier for homeowners to create in-law units or backyard cottages, but along the way had to face down noisy opposition. I tell the story in a new Cato post (cross-posted from Overlawyered)

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Baltimore’s high tax rates

Baltimore is a city with really high tax rates, much higher than those in most of the cities it competes with. “What are city officials doing with all that money?” asks my Cato colleague Chris Edwards. Accompanying graphic:

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Maryland’s gun permit system is challenged — and it’s probably unconstitutional

Maryland law still does not acknowledge any individual right of gun ownership, notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s decisions in D.C. v. Heller and McDonald v. City of Chicago, which recognized that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to own guns and determined that it applies to states and not solely the federal government. It’s time for that to change — and if the legislature won’t act, the courts will have to.

Allen Etzler reports at the FNP:

Maryland is one of 10 states considered a “may issue” state, which means it requires a permit to carry a concealed gun, and granting that permit is at the discretion of local authorities. It’s a restrictive law that prevents most average citizens from being able to obtain a permit, said Sen. Michael Hough (R-Frederick and Carroll).

“It’s an undue burden on people,” Hough said. “The vast majority of people that get this permit are armed security or private [investigators]. It’s very difficult for the average citizen to get one.”

Now Maryland Shall Issue, a gun rights organization, is challenging the state’s permit regime as inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s rulings in Heller and McDonald. My colleagues at the Cato Institute filed briefs in support of Second Amendment rights in both of those earlier cases.

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