Justice From The Frontlines: June 25, 2023

Resignation of Baltimore Police Commissioner

After 4 years leading the Baltimore police force, former Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison announced his resignation on June 8th. Harrison remains on the city payroll without disclosure of the terms of his separation, and Mayor Brandon Scott’s administration has not provided the resignation letter or its date. Harrison was set to serve until March 2024 under a five-year contract, and the reasons for his resignation and the circumstances surrounding it are unclear. Mayor Scott named Deputy Commissioner Richard Worley as Harrison’s replacement.  The Baltimore Banner (June 21, 2023)

Adnan Syed’s Lawyers Oppose Expansion of Victims’ Rights

Adnan Syed was convicted of the murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee in 2000 and sentenced to life in prison. Syed’s conviction was initially overturned in 2022 due to withheld evidence and information on alternative suspects. However, the Appellate Court of Maryland later reinstated the conviction and ordered a new hearing. Syed’s lawyers are now urging the Maryland Supreme Court to reject a petition from Lee’s brother seeking to expand victims’ rights in the case. The family is requesting that he be allowed as a victim representative to participate in hearings and potentially challenge evidence and cross-examine witnesses. The role Lee’s brother seeks is not recognized in any state or federal court system. Syed has consistently maintained his innocence and is currently free pending the appeals process.  The Baltimore Banner (June 22, 2023)  

D.C Council Considers New Bill

The D.C. Council is considering a bill that aims to strengthen penalties for domestic and sexual violence cases. Introduced by Councilmembers Brooke Pinto, Zachary Parker, and Anita Bonds, the bill includes provisions to give prosecutors more power in certain cases. The legislation addresses gaps in the legal system and responds to an increase in crimes such as murder and sex abuse. The bill aims to improve prosecution rates by providing prosecutors with increased power and leverage. While some advocates support the bill’s provisions, others object to sections that could violate victims’ privacy. Critics argue that making piecemeal changes to the outdated criminal code exacerbates existing problems and advocate for a comprehensive revision instead. Despite the need for a complete overhaul, Councilmember Pinto believes it is important to make changes in the meantime, as Congress has blocked previous attempts to revise the code. DCist (June 22, 2023)

Short Staffing in Prince George

The I-Team uncovered that Prince George’s County jail has lost nearly one-third of its workforce since 2020. Correction officers report that short staffing is compromising safety within the jail for staff and inmates. One former officer spoke to News4 “It’s a runway machine, and we don’t have the wheels anymore.” Short staffed, the prison has forced officers to work overtime. In every local jurisdiction, corrections staffing is down.The significant number of those who left Prince George have gone to other different jurisdictions. In response, one corrections officer said “What does that say? It says it’s not the profession… It’s our county in particular.” Currently, the county is seeking to fill around 175 vacancies.  NBC Washington (June 21, 2023)

Firearm Experts No Longer Testify Bullet Techniques

The Supreme Court of Maryland ruled that firearm experts can no longer testify a bullet came from a specific gun. Chief Judge Matthew Fader wrote the ruling, after recognizing that firearms identification has been unreliable in linking a particular unknown bullet to a known firearm. Three justices dissented on the decision, claiming that ballistic experts can produce accurate, repeatable, and reproducible results. Others have called it “a step in the right direction.” The ruling was made after a man appealed his conviction of first-degree murder and handgun offenses in the killing of his roommate. The Baltimore Banner (June 22, 2023)

Win for Reform Prosecutor

In Arlington County, reform prosecutor Parisa Dehghani-Tafti wins second term while the county board race remains undecided. The Arlington Democrat received around 56% of the vote, according to the unofficial results of the Virginia Department of Elections. Over 98% of early and day-of votes have been counted as of Tuesday night. Dehgani-Tafti built her campaign around reforming the county’s criminal legal system. She pushed for diversion and treatment for people accused of crimes and ending the practice of cash bail and prosecuting for simple marijuana possession. In a statement to DCist/WAMY, Dehgani-Tafti said “Tonight’s victory showed the voter’s renewed trust in us to continue that work.”  DCist (June 20, 2023)

“It’s a Hate Crime”

The fatal shooting of Nicholas Mireles, his son Mario, and his friend Christian Segovia by a neighbor during a parking spot dispute has been labeled a hate crime by demonstrators. The shooter was a U.S. Army veteran who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. Over 200 people marched the streets of Annopolis to mourn the death of three Latino men. Julian Segovia, who lost his brother in a mass shooting in downtown Annapolis, has said “This senseless act of violence was racially-motivated. And we want the world to know.” Other protestors voiced their fears for her children and community. The Baltimore Banner (June 18, 2023)

From the Des

In Other News

The intersection of alcohol and guns poses significant dangers, as research indicates that alcohol misuse increases the risk of gun violence and suicide. Alcohol impairs judgment and lowers inhibitions, leading individuals to make impulsive and dangerous decisions involving firearms. Studies have also shown that individuals with alcohol-related offenses, such as DUI convictions, are more likely to be arrested for violent or gun-related crimes. Efforts to pass laws regulating alcohol and guns have gained momentum in recent years. There is public support for regulations, including a federal gun ban for alcohol abusers. The Trace (June 21, 2023)

Starting July 1, over 700,000 incarcerated individuals in the United States will become eligible for Pell Grants, making higher education more affordable for them. Pell Grants are need-based financial aid from the federal government that do not require repayment and can provide up to $7,395 per academic year for college costs. These grants can now be used by incarcerated individuals in prison education programs (PEPs) to pursue professional certificates, associate degrees, or bachelor’s degrees from partner universities. DCNewsNow  (June 19, 2023)

The New Hampshire judicial branch wants to provide mental health alternatives to incarceration. Commissioner Hanks has reported that up to 90% of incarcerated women in the state have a mental health diagnosis. They plan to implement training for judges and staff, hire a judicial health coordinator, and initiate sequential intercept mapping. WMUR (June 21, 2023) 

Philadelphia’s District Attorney’s Office has reported and analyzed 290,000 cases, concluding that Black Philadelphians were more likely to be charged with felonies and over-assessed for risks. City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier acknowledged past policies that have left majority Black neighborhoods in Philadelphia with disinvestment and “set neighborhoods on a downward trajectory.” The Philadelphia Inquirer (June 19, 2023)

Community Board

  • Watch: Victim/Suspect chronicles journalists Rae de Leon’s investigation into a shocking nationwide pattern
  • Read: For nearly 30 years, only a small percentage of incarcerated people have been able to get college degrees. 
  • Read: Emerging Adult Justice Project develops specialized units for young adults in correctional facilities that offer greater access to educational opportunities and mental health treatment
  • Tweet: Police raid on elderly man’s house but had “the wrong house”
  • Read: How mass incarceration destroys the lives of New York adolescents
  • Read: Challenges arise from an increase in jail population 
  • Hiring: DC Justice Lab seeking full-time Events Producer and Director of Communications 
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Rita Ighekpe is a current Junior attending Towson University, where she is double majoring in sociology and political science. She is the fundraising chair of the Towson Naturalistas and a member of the Student Environmental Organization. Her interest in criminal justice began in highschool, where she was an International Baccalaureate student and a member of the Model United Nations as well as Speech and Debate. Her involvement in these organizations broadened her knowledge on law and policy and resulted in her aspirations to work with the law.

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Zoe Kim attends Villanova University, where she is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and minors in Economics and Philosophy. Passionate in criminal justice, Zoe was drawn to The Des and independent journalism serving as a call to action. The Dez gives Zoe the opportunity to pursue her interest in media and criminal justice. As an intern, she is enthusiastic to see first-hand how journalism can spark change socially.