Before taking Office in January 2011, State’s Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein asked a distinguished group of private- and public-sector lawyers to conduct an analysis of best practices at prosecutors’ offices throughout the country. With the generous support of the Greater Baltimore Committee, the group interviewed prosecutors from New York, Philadelphia, Washington, and other jurisdictions in Maryland. Based on this work, the group published a comprehensive report making 20 recommendations to transform the Office of the State’s Attorney for Baltimore City to make it effective and efficient in its pursuit of a safer Baltimore.

State’s Attorney Bernstein has used the report as a blueprint for his reforms over the past three and a half years. To date, he has successfully completed 16 of the 20 recommendations. Work is in progress on three others, and, with one, the decision was made not to implement at this time.

“I am grateful to everyone who invested so generously to create a roadmap to a safer Baltimore City. That roadmap has guided us in making structural and policy changes to greatly enhance the effectiveness of this Office,” State’s Attorney Bernstein said.

A review of each recommendation, and progress toward completion of those recommendations, is below.

1. Recommendation: Restructure executive-level management to accommodate the appropriate range of responsibilities and necessary expertise need for the effective operation of the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office, including hiring a full-time Director of Communications.

Status: Complete. State’s Attorney Bernstein restructured the duties and responsibilities of his three deputies. One deputy oversees all circuit court cases, another supervises all district and juvenile cases and handles policy matters, and the third manages all administrative duties, such as human resources and financial matters.    

2. Recommendation: Explore alternative physical office arrangements to bring prosecutors closer together in a more efficient working environment.

Status: Complete. To provide private, safe space for victims and witness and to improve efficiencies, the State’s Attorney’s Office relocated a short distance from Baltimore’s circuit court buildings. The office provides a safer setting for victims and witnesses, who no longer have to cross paths with defendants and others in the courthouse hallways prior to trial.

3. Recommendation: Evaluate the hiring program. Recruit annual incoming classes of a size that correspond to annual office attrition. Recruit from area law schools, and implement an Honors Program to attract top law students.

Status: Partially complete/In Progress. The State’s Attorney’s Office has conducted a comprehensive evaluation and restructuring of its hiring program, and conducted recruitment from area law schools, including the University of Baltimore and the University of Maryland. However, the Office does not currently recruit annual classes that correspond to attrition or have an Honors Program, due to the needs of the Office and heavy caseloads of the prosecutors. During his tenure, State’s Attorney Bernstein has hired more than 60 new prosecutors with a third coming from University of Maryland, a third coming from University of Baltimore, and a third coming from other law schools across the country.

4. Recommendation: Through an audit of the office and efficient use of resources, explore salary increases for Assistant State’s Attorneys to attract and retain top lawyers.

Status: Complete. During a comprehensive budget audit, State’s Attorney Bernstein identified cost-saving opportunities that enabled the office to reallocate funds to finance salary increases. Baltimore City prosecutors now receive salaries that are competitive with those in other Maryland prosecutors’ offices.

5. Recommendation: Establish a program with local law firms that permits young attorneys to work at the State’s Attorney’s Office for specified terms.

Status: Not Implemented. After conducting a thorough analysis, the State’s Attorney concluded this recommendation could not be feasibly implemented at this time.

6. Recommendation: Appoint a full-time Director of Training who will develop and implement a comprehensive training program for prosecutors of all levels of experience. Ensure training programs are qualified to meet CLE requirements, if necessary.

Status: Complete. State’s Attorney Bernstein hired a full-time Director of Training whose job is two-fold: 1.) Conduct a comprehensive orientation program for rookie prosecutors, introducing them to the basics, such as arresting and charging procedures, basic trial and oral advocacy skills, and prosecutorial ethics and professionalism; and 2.) provide on-going training to senior prosecutors to help them hone their trial skills and keep them abreast of important court rulings and new laws enacted in Annapolis.

7. Establish an early case assessment bureau to be staffed by senior prosecutors and located within the State’s Attorney’s Office.

Status: Complete. The staff at the Central Booking and Intake Center serve as a 24/7 early case assessment bureau, where senior prosecutors are co-located with police and probation agents. Those senior prosecutors work with police officers in reviewing the officer’s charging statements, answering questions, and making sure that all necessary case details are included. Additionally, War Room paralegals review the criminal records of all arrestees for the purpose of bail recommendations and initiations of violations of probation or parole. The State’s Attorney has expanded the criteria of cases in which the Office recommends pre-trial detention, improved data collection and case tracking, developed safeguards to ensure the prosecutors in charging are notified by BPD for all notable arrests so all relevant intelligence can be included in recommendations for pre-trial detention. Additionally, he has provided for incarcerated non-violent defendants charged with misdemeanors to be released into diversion programs.

8. Recommendation: Design and implement protocols for the intake and charging of cases, requiring follow-up investigation by charging officers.

Status: Complete. Shortly after taking office, State’s Attorney Bernstein composed and distributed clear charging guidelines, conceived to ensure that similar facts result in similar charges. The State’s Attorney also ensured that senior prosecutors review all felony cases and determine if they are properly charged. Additionally, prosecutors located at Central Booking routinely review charging documents and ask officers to make changes or clarifications, or to conduct further investigation to strengthen the case for trial. For example, prosecutors might ask the police to collect video from store surveillance cameras or obtain a copy of a search warrant. Making sure all of the case evidence is gathered at the initial charging stage is key to successful prosecution.    

9. Recommendation: Establish formalized training programs for the Baltimore Police Department to ensure the highest standards in preparation of cases for prosecution and trial.

Status: Complete: Senior prosecutors train new cadets and experienced police officers at the Police Academy, instructing them about what evidence and facts are needed to support specific criminal charges. That way, officers know what to investigate at crime scenes in order to build strong cases. This is one of the many ways that State’s Attorney Bernstein has improved the Office’s relationship with the police department and made sure that police and prosecutors work together as a team.  

10. Recommendation: Establish a process requiring all citizens who file criminal complaints with court commissioners to be referred to the State’s Attorney’s Office for evaluation of the complaint prior to issuance of the charging papers.

Status: Complete. State’s Attorney Bernstein established the Civilian Review Unit (CRU) shortly after taking office. In Maryland, citizens have the right to appear before a commissioner and swear out charges against someone else for an alleged crime. The police are not involved in any pre-trial investigation or have any review of the charging decision. Historically, the vast majority of these citizen-initiated cases were determined to lack merit or were abandoned by the complainant. Nevertheless, the cases congested the court system and burdened prosecutorial resources. CRU requires civilian complainants to come to the State’s Attorney Office and meet with a prosecutor within one week of visiting the commissioner. After reviewing the case and interviewing the complainant, the prosecutor determines whether or not the case is viable. If it is not, the case is dismissed and the complainant may seek civil remedies instead. If the case is viable, the prosecutor will gather all the evidence and witness information needed to prepare a strong case for trial.      

11. Recommendation: Restructure the trial divisions in the Office and implement a Community Prosecution model designed to advance proactive, intelligence-driven prosecution of cases and improved community interaction.

Status: Complete. To build even stronger relationships with the police and public, and to more effectively fight crime, State’s Attorney Bernstein transformed the office by implementing a Community Prosecution model in 2012. In the past, the office’s more than 200 prosecutors were assigned to units, each one focused on a different type of crime, such as firearms and narcotics. Under the new model, those units are replaced with divisions, each focused on a specific area of the city. By working more closely with people where they live, and with the police where they work, prosecutors are becoming as knowledgeable about the needs of neighborhoods as they are about the law. Moreover, prosecutors become familiar with repeat offenders, gang rivalries, and crime patterns in their assigned neighborhoods, which enables them to develop a better crime-fighting strategy with police and community stakeholders. “Community Prosecution represents a fundamental overhaul of how we build and prosecute cases, and connect with the community. Every one of my prosecutors is a Community Prosecutor. I am a Community Prosecutor,” State’s Attorney Bernstein said.

12. Recommendation: Establish a vertical model of prosecution for nearly all cases handled by the office

Status: Complete. State’s Attorney Bernstein established a vertical prosecution model to get prosecutors engaged at the very beginning of cases. This replaces a process where multiple Assistant State’s Attorneys would play a role in a case before assigning it to the prosecutor ultimately responsible for taking the case to trial. Earlier involvement enables prosecutors to better prepare cases and improves the ultimate outcomes, which is reflected in the increase in overall felony conviction rates. This vertical prosecution model also provides consistency for victims and witnesses, who do not have to re-tell their stories to each prosecutor who picks up the case at a different stage in the process.

13. Recommendation: To alleviate congestion, assess the use of non-misdemeanor courtrooms to preside over misdemeanor trials.

Status: In Progress. Although we have taken a number of important steps to reduce courtroom congestion, such as our successful advocacy for legislation reducing the sentence for possession of small amounts of marijuana, this remains a work in progress.

14. Recommendation: Establish a coordinated strategy to eliminate the incentive for a defendant to pray a jury trial in the District Court simply to secure a more favorable plea offer.

Status: Complete. State’s Attorney Bernstein has expanded the office’s diversion programs for non-violent drug offenders, particularly for possession of small amounts of marijuana, meaning that eligible individuals can choose education, community service, and/or treatment in lieu of prosecution and conviction. Finally, the State’s Attorney Bernstein is dedicated to clear plea-bargain sentencing recommendations that make sense both in terms of outcome and process. This ensures that, to the fullest extent possible, people facing similar charges receive the same treatment from prosecutors.

15. Recommendation: Support legislation to reduce the maximum penalties for certain misdemeanors, thereby eliminating defendants’ rights to jury trials in Circuit Court and resulting in a greater number of misdemeanor cases being resolved at the District Court level.

Status: Complete. State’s Attorney Bernstein championed legislation to reduce the maximum penalty for the possession of small amounts of marijuana from one year in jail to 90 days. The General Assembly passed the measure and Governor Martin O’Malley signed it into law. This change in the law reduced Circuit Court misdemeanor caseloads so that prosecutors and judges can focus on more serious, violent crime. (NB: The General Assembly recently passed a law, which the Governor signed, that decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. This change in the law should reduce misdemeanor caseloads in the District Court.)

16. Recommendation: Review existing victim and witness services to ensure maximum protection of witnesses and holistic services to victims.

Status: Complete. Working together, the State’s Attorney’s Office and the Baltimore Police Department overhauled victim-witness services in Baltimore City, adopting a more holistic, streamlined, and collaborative approach. Before State’s Attorney Bernstein took office, police provided protection services to victims and witnesses during the investigation, and the State’s Attorney’s Office took over after charges were filed. Now, the police department is responsible for determining whether a victim or witness is in danger (i.e., conducting a threat assessment), which is what the police do best. The State’s Attorney’s Office, on the other hand, is responsible for helping those victims and witnesses receive the help and services they need, ranging from transportation and food assistance to temporary or even permanent relocation. With experienced victim and witness case workers on staff, this is what the State’s Attorney’s Office does best.

17. Recommendation: Working with other prosecutors’ offices to obtain funding and vouchers from the federal government for housing and other services for intimidated witnesses.

Status: In Progress. State’s Attorney Bernstein has strongly supported the efforts of Congressman Elijah Cummings, one of the nation’s leading champions of victim-witness protection programs, to increase federal funding for relocation services through the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Unfortunately, Congress has not acted in this area. State’s Attorney Bernstein has, however, made sure that the Office’s Victim/Witness Assistance Unit has the funds necessary to do the job.

18. Recommendation: Identify and establish performance measures for the State’s Attorney’s Office according to emerging national standards.

Status: Complete. With funding generously provided by the Governor O’Malley’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention, the State’s Attorney’s Office hired a full-time data analyst to collect a wide range of data, to conduct thorough evaluations of that information, and to present her findings to internal audiences. The data analyst’s work informs decisions at all levels of our operation, the primary goal being to improve collective, as well as individual, performances. The State’s Attorney’s Office has also come through on a promise of accountability and transparency by publishing its conviction rates online.

19. Recommendation: Conduct an audit of existing information technology capacity and make recommendations to develop the infrastructure necessary for effective case management and statistical tracking and measurements. Identify and secure external funding sources for information technology.

Status: Complete. With the objective of making the office more effective in our pursuit of a safer Baltimore City, State’s Attorney Bernstein conducted a comprehensive analysis of the agency’s budget, information technology, overall operations, and personnel. As part of its work, the team identified cost-saving opportunities that were reinvested in salary increases and information technology improvements. These upgrades enable us to remain in closer contact with victims and witnesses and to work more efficiently, among other gains. State’s Attorney Bernstein has also ensured that prosecutors have individualized voicemails and access to Office-funded cell phones.

20. Recommendation: Establish a conviction integrity program to ensure overall integrity in all aspects of the work of the State’s Attorney’s Office, including managing allegations concerning police credibility, making determinations of disclosure obligations on a case-by-case basis, and investigating post-conviction claims of innocence. Establish a new and cooperative process with the Baltimore Police Department to address claims of credibility concerning police officers.

Status: Complete. State’s Attorney Bernstein established a Conviction Integrity Unit to fulfill all of the responsibilities recommended by the expert panel, including the investigation of claims of actual innocence. He also created the Police Integrity Unit to address credibility issues, investigate allegations of misconduct, and to prosecute officers who violate the law.

To read the Greater Baltimore Committee report, go to:

http://gbc.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/010611-GBC-Ad-Hoc-Committee-Report-1.pdf

 

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