In the Media: Activists File Lawsuit Challenging Baltimore Primary; Criminal Justice Reform in Md
A digest of Baltimore news from local sources.
From the Baltimore Sun: Activists file federal lawsuit to challenge Baltimore primary
"A group of activists have petitioned a U.S. District Court judge to order a new primary for Baltimore voters, alleging a series of a irregularities and a 'vote-buying scheme' marred the election outcome.
"Members of the group Voters Organized for the Integrity of City Elections, or VOICE, joined two candidates and an ex-offender in a lawsuit filed moments before midnight Wednesday against the city and state election boards.
"They are asking the court to declare the results of the primary 'null and void,' order a new contest at the earliest date possible and appoint federal observers to oversee the process, including 'systemic changes in practices, procedures and personnel.'
"State Sen. Catherine E. Pugh was declared the Democratic nominee for mayor after the April 26 primary. Former Mayor Sheila Dixon took second place in that party's election. Dixon announced Wednesday that she would not file a lawsuit challenging the election outcome.
"Dara Lindenbaum, an attorney for Pugh, said Thursday the campaign is reviewing the complaint. She pointed to the conclusions of a state investigation into the city election that declared that Pugh won the nomination by 2,400 votes. The state's review did not change the outcome of any race."
From the Baltimore Sun: Officer Goodson, van driver in Freddie Gray case, challenges key evidence ahead of trial
"Officer Caesar R. GoodsonJr., the next Baltimore police officer scheduled to stand trial in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray, has challenged the admissibility of key evidence in the state's case against him — including portions of Gray's autopsy and a disputed statement by a fellow officer that Gray said, 'I can't breathe,' while he was in their custody.
"Goodson, the driver of the transport van in which prosecutors say Gray suffered a fatal spinal injury, faces the most serious charges in the case, including second-degree depraved heart murder. It carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.
"He also faces manslaughter, second-degree assault and misconduct-in-office charges.
"Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams has scheduled a pretrial hearing Monday to consider Goodson's motions and others filed in the case, the court said Wednesday. Goodson's trial is set to begin Tuesday with jury selection.
"Goodson's attorneys have argued in a written motion that a comment Officer William Porter allegedly made to Detective Syreeta Teel during an unrecorded telephone conversation on April 15, 2015 — that Gray said he couldn't breathe — is inadmissible hearsay. Porter denied making that comment at his own trial, and Goodson's attorneys argue that it represents "subterfuge" on the part of prosecutors who want to introduce the statement only to impeach Porter after he again testifies to the contrary.
"'The State intends to rely on this 'fact' — as it did throughout Officer Porter's trial — to argue that Mr. Gray should have been given prompt medical attention after telling Officer Porter at the 4th stop that he could not breathe,' wrote Goodson's attorneys, Matthew Fraling and Andrew Graham. 'There is a problem with the State's theory: No admissible evidence exists to establish that Mr. Gray told Officer Porter at the fourth stop that he could not breathe.'
"Prosecutors, in their response, said Porter's testimony is being sought for its broad relevance. They said the disputed statement is 'inextricably intertwined' with permissible testimony related to the interactions of Goodson, Porter and Gray at the stop in question.
"Porter has been compelled to testify under limited immunity that prevents his testimony from being used against him at his own retrial. His first trial ended in a hung jury and mistrial."
From the Washington Post: How Maryland came to repeal mandatory minimums for drug offenders
"About 1,600 prisoners serving long sentences in Maryland will become eligible for early release in October 2017, just as the state does away with mandatory minimum prison time for newly convicted, nonviolent drug offenders.
"Taken together, advocates said, the changes put Maryland at the forefront of states that are adopting major criminal-justice reform.
"No longer will a person convicted of possession with intent to distribute even a small amount of drugs face an automatic prison sentence of 10 years. And hundreds of nonviolent offenders who have been given severe penalties over the past three decades will be able to appeal to a judge to get out years ahead of schedule.
"But the state’s decision to jettison mandatory minimum sentences almost did not happen.
"The provision was not included in the sweeping criminal-justice legislation submitted to the General Assembly late last year, in part because of strong opposition from law enforcement and key Republicans.
"It was added after two freshman lawmakers — a Democrat and a Republican — brokered a deal that also includes stricter penalties for certain violent crimes.
“'No state has gone as far as Maryland in recent memory,' said Gregory Newburn, the director of state policy at Families Against Mandatory Minimums, a national advocacy group.
"At the bill-signing last month, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) called the legislation 'the largest, most comprehensive criminal-justice reform in Maryland in a generation.'"