ANNAPOLIS — Baltimore prosecutors are preparing to file nearly 800 motions to vacate convictions that relied significantly on testimony from corrupt police officers under a new law that takes effect Oct. 1.
Deputy State’s Attorney Janice Bledsoe told the Court of Appeals Rules Committee Thursday that the office had identified at least 790 convictions it believes should be vacated because they involved evidence from members of the notorious Gun Trace Task Force.
The Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office has been reviewing cases involving the officers since their federal indictments in 2017.
The rules panel met Thursday to discuss updates to the Maryland Rules.
When some judges denied joint motions by the state and defense to vacate convictions — often because the judges said they did not believe the law allowed for the relief requested — Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby turned to the General Assembly to ask that a mechanism be created to handle situations like those created by the corruption of the GTTF officers.
The legislature passed House Bill 874, sponsored by Del. Erek Barron, D-Prince George’s, earlier this year, which allows a prosecutor to move to vacate a conviction if newly discovered evidence makes it likely the outcome of the trial would have been different or if new information calls the integrity of the conviction into question.
Retired Court of Appeals Judge Alan Wilner, chair of the Rules Committee — short for the Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure — said Thursday that there had been a great deal of discussion in the subcommittee working on the rule about how to address issues not covered by the statute, such as what to do when a defendant cannot be located.
Bledsoe said prosecutors would do their best to find defendants and may contact their last defense attorneys of record to seek contact information. She asked that the rule not require the state to show the motion had been served or received but merely “sent” to start the process.
Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger, a member of the committee, said he agreed that sending the motion should trigger the rule.
“There will be defendants we can’t find, but it’s still about the state doing the right thing,” he said.
The court can hold a hearing without the defendant’s receiving actual notice, though the state will have to prove its efforts to locate the defendant, the rules panel determined. However, if a judge decides to dismiss the action, it can only be done without prejudice — meaning it can be brought again in the future — if the defendant was not present, according to the panel.
The Rules Committee also agreed that the clerk’s office should send hearing notices but amended the draft rule to require the prosecutor to include the most up-to-date information about a defendant’s location in the motion, in case it differed from the last known address in the court’s file.
Barron told the committee he was concerned about the last step of the process, which requires the prosecutor to take final action after the motion is granted by either dismissing the charges or by taking “other appropriate action” as to the count or counts that were vacated.
“I don’t know why a state’s attorney would do anything other than a nol prosse (dismissal) in making such an extraordinary motion,” he said.
But Shellenberger said a situation could exist in which the prosecutor would not want to dismiss. Committee members on Thursday discussed maintaining the discretion of the state to decide how to dispose of the charges.
Committee member Del. Kathleen M. Dumais, D-Montgomery, suggested amending the rule to require the prosecutor to dismiss vacated charges, but the motion failed.
The Rules Committee also undertook the first comprehensive overhaul of rules governing access to court records since 2004, largely to address advances in technology that affect how and when the public can access the records.
Wilner said the committee wanted to strike a balance between the traditional openness of judicial records and the “legitimate curbs on openness when necessary (due to) other equally important values.”
The amendments mainly attempt to be consistent with the Maryland Public Information Act, he said, adding that some differences exist.
The committee did not address rules governing access to court recordings, which are currently the subject of litigation in state and federal court. Wilner said the committee will let the cases “play out.”
The changes primarily reflect the roll-out of electronic filing across the state, which allows case documents to be accessed from computer terminals.
Wilner said the committee would compile the amendments, review the draft rules for style, then submit them to the Court of Appeals for approval in the coming weeks.