In January this year, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, no stranger to the national spotlight, made headlines when she announced a “monumental shift” in public policy as it relates to marijuana possession in the city of Baltimore. In addition to dropping cases and prioritizing divergence over incarceration, Mosby submitted a plea to drop nearly 5000 marijuana convictions dating back to 2011. But on Friday, District and Circuit Court judges denied Mosby’s request, a denial Mosby’s office confirmed on Monday. So far, it’s unclear why judges denied Mosby’s request to expunge nearly 5,000 cannabis-related convictions.
Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s Commitment to Racial Justice Draws Police Ire
Politician and lawyer Marilyn Mosby became the youngest chief prosecutor of any U.S. city when she was sworn in as State’s Attorney for Baltimore City in 2015. Mosby campaigned on a platform of “justice over convictions” and vowed to change policies, like marijuana enforcement, that vastly disproportionately impact people of color in Baltimore.
In May of 2015, Mosby made national news when she filed charges against the six police officers who arrested Freddie Gray. Gray died in police custody after being shackled in the back of a police van, where he fell into a coma and later died from injuries sustained to his spinal cord as a result of his confinement.
Mosby charged the officers with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter, a move that generated outrage among the law enforcement establishment, which accused Mosby of not supporting the police. So far, all of the officers who have stood trial have been acquitted. Five of the six officers sued Mosby over the charges and prosecution. Federal judges subsequently blocked those lawsuits.
Judges Block Key Part of Mosby’s “Justice Over Convictions” Agenda
But it was in January 2019 that Mosby turned to Baltimore’s marijuana arrest problem. According to her research, black Baltimore residents are six times more likely than white residents to face arrest for possessing cannabis. In light of this racist disproportionality, Mosby announced that Baltimore state’s attorneys would no longer prosecute marijuana possession cases, regardless of the weight of cannabis or the suspect’s criminal history.
Additionally, Mosby established a policy to prosecute suspects for possession with intent to distribute or distribution only if those charges had articulated evidence of intent to sell or distribute backing them up. It is common practice for police to charge anyone in possession of a larger-than-personal quantity of marijuana with intent to distribute. Mosby said that the mere possession of such quantities would no longer serve as grounds for distribution or intent charges.
Furthermore, Mosby established a mandate for state’s attorneys to refer any and all first-time distribution offenders to the Aim to B’MORE divergence program. Mosby started the Aim to B’MORE program in 2015 to provide an alternative to incarceration and a criminal record for first-time, non-violent felony drug offenders. Through the program, offenders complete community service, jobs training, a GED program and substance abuse treatment. In return, they’re fast-tracked to full-time jobs and given a three-year probation. At the end of the probation period, offenders can apply to expunge their criminal records.
Baltimore Judges Deny Request to Expunge Prior Marijuana Convictions
A final component of Mosby’s January marijuana policy announcement addressed those with marijuana-related criminal records. Recognizing the extreme racial disparity of convictions for marijuana possession, and the lifelong consequences of a drug conviction, Mosby asked judges to expunge nearly 5,000 records. Specifically, Mosby submitted a “writ of coram nobis”—meaning “error before us”—to the courts to acknowledge the past wrongs and harms of criminalization.
With the writ of coram nobis, Mosby requested to vacate 1,050 cases in Circuit Court and 3,778 in District Court, back to 2011.
So far, there is no word on why District and Circuit Court judges denied Mosby’s request to expunge the roughly 5000 convictions. Mosby’s office should be releasing a statement shortly.