- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 11, 2005

BALTIMORE (AP) — Two judges in recent rulings have said they don’t believe the police officers who investigated gun cases, prompting prosecutors to dismiss charges.

Baltimore police have been trying aggressively to take guns off the streets. They have collected more than 1,400 this year. But some cases are getting thrown out of court because of what judges say are improper police searches.

Prosecutors and judges said Baltimore police generally do a good job building weapons cases, and that the most common mistakes can be explained by honest disagreements about how to interpret the complexities of laws protecting citizens from improper searches and seizures.

More disturbing, prosecutors said, are the times when a judge doubts the credibility of the investigating officer.

“There is a strong skepticism in the air about the police, transmitted through the jurors based on what they see in their communities,” Circuit Judge John M. Glynn told the Baltimore Sun. “Judges are citizens of those communities, too.”

A review of three months of data compiled by the city state’s attorney’s office shows that among the 210 circuit court cases and 99 district court cases involving weapons, about 40 were hampered by issues such as police officers’ being unable to testify because they were under investigation or had been suspended, legal questions about who possessed a recovered weapon, and judges dismissing key evidence.

In those cases, circuit judges granted motions to suppress evidence in felony weapons cases a half-dozen times, leading to the case being dismissed or findings of not guilty. Eight more times, prosecutors dropped charges because it was not clear whose gun was recovered. Another two dozen handgun cases in district court were affected by similar issues.

During that same period, April through June, 125 circuit and district court weapons and shooting cases ended in either a guilty plea or a conviction.

Police officials said they see the rulings in which judges question the credibility of officers as isolated. James H. Green, the department’s director of special projects, said prosecutors have faith in the officers’ work because cases are being indicted and presented to the court. But, he added, “it’s always difficult” when a judge has doubts.

Matt Jablow, the police department’s chief spokesman, said officers are doing a good job.

“Hundreds of gun cases are prosecuted each year based on the testimony of our police officers,” Mr. Jablow said. “The officers do their job well, getting violent criminals off the streets. And they tell the truth. We stand behind our officers.”

But two recent rulings from judges caused two convicted felons who admitted carrying a loaded weapon to avoid a mandatory prison term of five years without the possibility of parole.

Circuit Judge Wanda K. Heard reluctantly ruled Wednesday that a .357-caliber Magnum revolver found on a man who had been convicted of prior weapons violations could not be used as evidence because she thought the officer had lied about what prompted him to search the man.

“I don’t believe it happened the way the officer said,” Judge Heard said in court.

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