I was (and still am) on vacation when Gregg Bernstein announced his candidacy for Baltimore State’s Attorney. We should be grateful that such a worthy candidate is willing to take on the rigors of a campaign and the challenges of the city prosecutor’s office. It’s an office that could and should be the shining light of the state but has, particularly since 2002, elevated the image of State’s Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy over her results.
I did catch about half of the Larry Young radio show last Friday, however. It was refreshing to hear Jessamy herself on the show, rather than her ubiquitous spokesperson, Margaret Burns. I tuned in when former Baltimore mayor and state’s attorney Kurt Schmoke was claiming that he travels around now as an academic and sees other prosecutor offices copying Jessamy’s programs.
What programs? Schmoke, who hired Jessamy into the state’s attorney’s office 25 years, is now 22 years removed from that office. He hasn’t a clue.
Then defense attorney Warren Brown called into the show. Upfront about his support of Bernstein, he nevertheless complimented Jessamy for her personal qualities before asking his question: Why has Jessamy never invoked mandatory penalties for repeat violent offenders?
Here was her answer:
1. Brown had a personal motive for asking this question because he blamed her for leaking some information that took him out of a previous state’s attorney’s campaign.
2. Brown had just argued for a lenient sentence for one of his clients but the judge sided with the prosecutors.
3. No one will believe that a defense attorney wants her to put his clients away for life.
Brown persisted: Why has Jessamy never invoked mandatory penalties for repeat violent offenders?
Jessamy finally responded that Brown was “inaccurate.” She provided no details—no explanation of her policy, no numbers, nothing. And she proudly added that she did not invoke mandatory penalties for “non-violent offenses.”
Anybody listening to this—assuming they weren’t thrown off by her accusations and diversions--would have realized that Jessamy has no handle on whether or when her office pursues mandatory penalties for repeat violent offenders. That’s pretty disturbing.
But my ears focused on her admission that she doesn’t pursue mandatory penalties for non-violent offenses. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, I assume she was talking about felony drug offenses, not handgun possession charges, which technically are not “violent” offenses but are connected to violence.
But drug-dealing is likewise connected to violence, something I have argued since I began this blog. My recent study of Jessamy’s violent offender program confirmed the connection. Yet Jessamy admitted to a policy that never seeks mandatory penalties for drug-dealing.
I suppose she’s catering to a constituency that favors drug treatment over incarceration. Rehabilitation over prison. As do I. For addicts. For those selling to support an addiction. For young people who made a mistake.
But not for those shooting and intimidating and murdering to make drug profits for gangs and organized crime. When police catch those persons repeatedly dealing, prosecutors need to consider mandatory penalties.
Jessamy doesn’t, by her own admission, make any distinction between dealers. It’s the first tangible result of Bernstein’s challenge. Now we know.