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Bernstein outlines changes made, to come

A little over a year after taking over as Baltimore City State’s Attorney, Gregg L. Bernstein on Monday outlined a host of initiatives his office has undertaken, including creating a Major Investigations Unit and another unit charged with evaluating claims of wrongful prosecution.

Baltimore City State’s Attorney, Gregg L. Bernstein

Bernstein said those and other initiatives, such as moving to a community-based prosecution model along with technology upgrades and increased training, would help drive down the crime rate in the city. Bernstein said at a news conference announcing the initiatives that in 2011 the felony conviction rate was 65 percent, slightly up from 63 percent in 2010. He also cited a 7 percent increase in homicide convictions and an increase in the average jail time handed down in felony gun cases.

“We already are seeing positive results and are thereby making Baltimore safer,” Bernstein said. “And, we expect further increases in convictions and significant sentences and a reduction in violent crime.”

Bernstein first mentioned community-based prosecution before he took office in January 2011. Under that model, the office’s more than 200 prosecutors would be split along geographic lines into three zones.

Bernstein’s Major Investigations Unit launched in June. Similar to the relationship the U.S. Attorney’s Office has with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Major Investigations Unit works with city and federal law enforcement agencies to target violent, repeat offenders.

The Conviction Integrity Unit is tasked with reviewing claims of innocence and error after convictions are obtained. Bernstein said the office was receiving an increasing number of claims from jailed defendants claiming they were innocent.

“I feel it’s very important to have a unit where the people in it can take an objective look … and make an objective determination about whether we need to take a fresh look at the particular case,” Bernstein said.

Additionally, he said the Police Misconduct Unit had been reorganized and the office would switch to a vertical prosecution model, where the same prosecutors will see the case all the way through to disposition.

The office will also increasingly look at alternatives to jail sentences for minor, non-violent crimes such as marijuana possession and prostitution, he said.