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Supreme Court declines Baltimore’s appeal in ‘Charles Village rapist’ case

The Supreme Court let stand without comment Monday a $2.3 million jury award to a man wrongfully jailed for 15 months as the “Charles Village rapist” in Baltimore.

The high court refused to disturb the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ conclusion that Baltimore police lacked probable cause to arrest Marlow Humbert. The 4th Circuit, in reinstating the jury’s award, said the officers zealously urged the victim to identify Humbert in a police photo then did not mention her concerns with the identification when they successfully sought the arrest warrant.

The Supreme Court’s decision not to hear Baltimore’s appeal is not a statement by the justices on the merits of the case, Mayor and City Council of the City of Baltimore et al. v. Marlow Humbert, No. 17-1185.

In their unsuccessful appeal, city lawyers had argued that the 4th Circuit focused myopically on discrete actions of investigating officers rather than on what the victim was telling them about her attacker in words and actions sufficient to give police probable cause to arrest Humbert.

The 4th Circuit’s “piecemeal” examination of police conduct ran counter to high-court precedent, which allows for probable cause findings based on the “totality of the circumstances,” added the lawyers, led by Suzanne Sangree, senior public safety counsel for the Baltimore City Law Department.

Humbert’s attorneys countered that the 4th Circuit correctly applied the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable seizures to the facts of Humbert’s arrest in finding a lack of probable cause. The lawyers added that the Supreme Court decides issues of law and does not review “fact disputes” resolved at trial.

“(T)his case – in which the sole witness testified she was shown a photo resembling Mr. Humbert in advance of the photo array and told it was a photo of her attacker, the arrest was based on a subsequent photo identification that the witness immediately stated she was not sure about, the witness reiterated that she could not positively identify him after his arrest, and exculpatory DNA analysis was withheld from prosecutors for a year – is a poor candidate for deviation from the (Supreme) Court’s usual practice,” lead attorney Charles H. Edwards IV, of The Law Office of Barry Glazer LLP in Baltimore, wrote in papers filed with the justices.

Humbert was arrested in May 2008 and charged with first-degree rape and armed robbery for an assault two weeks earlier in the 2200 block of St. Paul Street, according to his lawsuit. The attack was one of several robberies and sexual assaults in the neighborhood that spring, leading police to search for the “Charles Village rapist,” stated the lawsuit, filed in February 2011.

Humbert’s federal civil-rights claim against three officers alleged police evidence did not corroborate the victim’s story but he was hastily arrested amid intense media coverage and concern in the community of more attacks. Humbert was held in jail for 15 months before the Baltimore state’s attorney’s office dropped the charges against him after discovering the victim had not positively identified Humbert and DNA evidence excluded him as a suspect.

A U.S. District Court jury in April 2015 found Humbert’s civil rights were violated when police essentially coached if not outright prodded the victim into identifying him as her attacker as she reviewed photographs. But U.S. District Judge William D. Quarles Jr. overturned the verdict two months later, saying the officers lawfully stopped Humbert, noting the victim wrote “that’s him” on the back of his photograph and because of his resemblance to the composite sketch based on that photo.

When the 4th Circuit reinstated the jury’s verdict last August, the city’s appealed to the Supreme Court.

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