- The Washington Times - Friday, January 16, 2009

BALTIMORE | If Mayor Sheila Dixon goes to trial before a Baltimore jury, it might include some of the best friends she could hope to find.

The city’s jurors - often poor, uneducated and distrustful of police and prosecutors — have historically been sympathetic to defendants, most of whom are black.

“Jurors in Baltimore City, typical jurors, they render verdicts from the gut,” said Warren A. Brown, a city defense attorney for more than 20 years. “To hell with the law, to hell with the facts, they will render a verdict that they think is fair, is right.”

And while Mrs. Dixon isn’t a typical defendant — among other things, the city’s first black female mayor is accused of stealing gift cards meant for needy families and treating herself to fur coats and pricey hotel stays on her developer-boyfriend’s tab — her attorneys are already playing to potential jurors by portraying the case as a witch hunt by the state prosecutor.

Her attorney, Arnold M. Weiner, ridiculed state prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh, a gubernatorial appointee who investigates public corruption, for his relentless pursuit of Mrs. Dixon and his failure to indict her on a more serious charge, like bribery.

“The state prosecutor went on a journey that was nothing but a big circle,” Mr. Weiner said.

A study released last fall by the Abell Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank that examines poverty in Baltimore, found juries in the city less likely to convict defendants than those in the surrounding suburban counties. The study cited both socioeconomic factors — the Baltimore jury pool is poorer and less educated than in the suburbs — and race — the city is two-thirds black and 92 percent of defendants were nonwhite.

The phenomenon isn’t limited to Baltimore. Arthur Patterson, a senior vice president at DecisionQuest, a national jury consulting firm, said jurors also tend to be more sympathetic to defendants in other cities with large minority populations, including Los Angeles and Chicago.

“Minority individuals bring to the jury room a sensitivity to defendants’ lives that nonminority jurors don’t have,” Mr. Patterson said. “Minority defendants get a fair shake. I’m not saying more than a fair shake, but they get a fair shake.”

Baltimore prosecutors have long known it can be difficult to win convictions from a population that feels it is poorly served by police officers and prosecutors.

Defense attorney Margaret Mead, who has practiced in Baltimore for nearly 20 years, said juries don’t ignore hard evidence, but are often familiar with the criminal justice system and more apt to see through the agendas of police officers and witnesses.

“You have a jury pool that is skeptical and cautious about what people say on either side,” Ms. Mead said. “This is a population of people with such significant life experience that they are cautious about what anybody says on that witness stand.”

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