- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Prosecutors and judges are tossing out almost half of the more than 10,000 felony criminal cases submitted to the courts each year by Metropolitan Police Department investigators.
Last year, prosecutors dropped 2,924 felony cases 29 percent before trial, according to the D.C. court system's 2001 annual report, the most recent available. Judges dismissed another 1,606 felony cases. Those numbers showed that 4,530 of the court system's 10,040 felony cases 45 percent were not brought to trial.
The Washington Times first reported in August 1999 that about 45 percent of felony cases were dropped or dismissed in 1998, and that the five-year average for felony cases that were dropped or dismissed was about 49 percent between 1994 and 1998. Police officers have complained that high dismissal rates put criminal suspects back on the streets to commit more crimes.
Roscoe C. Howard, U.S. attorney for the District, said in an interview last week with The Times that the statistics didn't speak to the effectiveness of his prosecutors.
"It's not a statistic that really shows fault," said Mr. Howard, whom President Bush appointed in August 2001.
Mr. Howard said a case could be dropped for any number of reasons, including a plea agreement with prosecutors, recanted testimony, or unreliable or uncooperative witnesses which happens often in domestic-violence cases.
In the District, the U.S. attorney prosecutes federal and local crimes. A referendum in last month's election showed that D.C. residents overwhelmingly preferred to have a locally elected prosecutor who would prosecute cases aggressively and be held accountable at the ballot box.
Mr. Howard denied that his prosecutors lacked aggressiveness.
"I think we've got an aggressive group, but we don't go after cases just to go after cases," he said. "What we're trying to do is bring cases in court that we believe will stand up to the scrutiny of a jury."
Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said during a luncheon last week with editors and reporters at The Times that "sometimes the prosecutorial standard is too high" in building such cases.
Chief Ramsey said the U.S. Attorney's Office's rate of dropping cases for prosecution had little if any effect on the homicide division's declining closure rate, and stressed that most of the blame rested with his own detectives. He said police errors in evidence handling, faulty reports and incomplete interviews of witnesses were not the U.S. attorney's fault.
The chief noted that detectives recently brought six cases to the U.S. Attorney's Office for prosecution and four were accepted. He agreed with prosecutors that one of the rejected cases needed more detective work, but said the other rejected case should have been accepted.
Chief Ramsey said "things are getting better" between the police department and the U.S. Attorney's Office and that the two law enforcement agencies are "getting on the same page."
"You got to admit four out of six is pretty good," the chief said, referring to the homicide cases brought to prosecutors last week.
Mr. Howard praises his relationship with Chief Ramsey and says they usually meet twice a month to discuss cases. But he disagreed with the police chief's contention that prosecutors sometimes ask for too much evidence before taking a case.
"I'm sure he believes that and that's fine," Mr. Howard said. "I don't think our standards are too high. What we want is when we bring cases to trial that they are cases that will stick."
Mr. Howard said he doesn't expect the number of cases dropped by prosecutors to change significantly, but does expect more effective prosecutions resulting in fewer cases dismissed in court.
If prosecutors drop charges before arraignment a hearing during which a judge sets a date for trial the case is considered "no-papered." In these instances, prosecutors do not file formal charges, and the accused is released at the arraignment. The accused usually has spent a night in jail.
If prosecutors go through with the arraignment but then drop the charges before a preliminary hearing, the case is considered "nolle prosequi," meaning the government is unwilling or declines to prosecute.
If prosecutors decide not to proceed after a preliminary hearing, the case is considered dismissed. Cases can be dismissed for many reasons, including lack of evidence or a witness's decision not to testify.
The accused also can be released without a verdict after the formal court process begins. A judge usually will dismiss a case for lack of probable cause or for want of prosecution, when the government does not have its case ready on time.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide