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by Peter Moskos

August 13, 2016

On Felony Running

[From pp.58-59 of Cop in the Hood]

To meet the standards needed for a formal prosecution, one must follow the informal rules imposed by the state’s attorney. Rule number one is don’t take your eyes off the drugs. Drug charges against a suspect will not be prosecuted in Baltimore City if an officer fails to maintain constant sight of the drugs. A suspect fleeing from police will throw down drugs while running. An officer in foot pursuit must then choose between catching a suspect with no drugs and retrieving the drugs with no suspect. Officers generally will choose to follow the suspect over the drugs because— along with a personal desire to catch a fleeing suspect—arrests are a police statistic used to judge performance. Found drugs are not.

After catching the suspect, the officer will return to retrieve the drugs and charge the suspect with possession, knowing full well that the charges will be dropped if the report is written honestly. But officers are rewarded for arrests, not convictions. If the drugs can’t be found--lost in weeds, scooped up by a bystander, or never there to begin with--the officer is in a bit of a bind, left with the noncrime of “felony running.” You can’t lock somebody up for drug possession without drugs. And after a chase, even loitering doesn’t apply. But the officer will find some crime, however minor If you run and get caught, you’re probably not sleeping in your own bed that night.

[This is why Freddie Gray was arrested for a barely illegal knife].


bacchys said...

His knife wasn't illegal at all.

But he had to be arrested for something, and the cops know full well the majority of people arrested for the possession of legal knives will plead it out in order to get out of jail instead of waiting the year to eighteen months (or more) to have the charges dropped before trial.

Yeah, yeah, I know the Baltimore FOP has another, self-serving view of the legality of the knife under the Baltimore switchblade ordinance, and that Mosby dropped the unlawful arrest charges based on the knife being legal- but her office tells me they can't tell me how many convictions for spring-assisted knives they've gotten over the years.

Peter Moskos said...

I'm not going to debate the legality of the knife.

Baltimore law § 59-22 prohibits possession of knives with a "device for opening and/or closing the blade, commonly known as a switch-blade knife." End of story. (Unless you're saying his knife wasn't a switch blade.)

It's 100 percent irrelevant how many people have been prosecuted/convicted for this. My guess is honestly zero (which is the true for most laws, by the way). But what does that have to do with anything? Mosby can bring charges whenever she wants. And in this context, you really think she was holding her punches? Get real. (Even if the knife had been legal, conviction would be hard because the officers could argue they *thought* the knife was illegal. But that's a separate issue.)

Officers did want to arrest Gray. Why? Because he ran. Luckily for the cops, there was something to arrest him for. That's not illegal. That's discretionary.