Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

As Baltimore’s next state’s attorney, Bates will keep police, conviction integrity units

“Sometimes justice means you have to dismiss a case against a bad person because their constitutional rights were violated,” said Ivan Bates. “We will focus on constitutionally protected correct policing and administration of justice.” (The Daily Record)

Ivan Bates ran for Baltimore state’s attorney on a promise to bring change as the city’s top prosecutor.

In the Democratic primary, Bates pledged to pursue gun cases more aggressively and said he would resume prosecuting low-level offenses that his opponent, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, eschewed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The strategy worked: Bates, a former defense lawyer and prosecutor, defeated Mosby in the primary and is headed into the general election unopposed. His victory was widely viewed as a rebuke of Mosby, who is under federal indictment and has inspired strong opinions during her two terms.

But Bates, who is set to take office in January, also plans to preserve some core elements of his predecessor’s administration.

Bates told The Daily Record he will keep the office’s police and conviction integrity units — albeit with some changes. (Both units started under Gregg Bernstein, the state’s attorney who preceded Mosby, but took on new prominence during Mosby’s high-profile tenure.)

Bates also will maintain a “do-not-call” list of police officers who cannot be trusted to testify in court, he said.

“I definitely plan to keep a do-not-call list,” Bates said. “I think one of the things we need to do is look at that list to see who’s on the list, who’s still working, and have an understanding with Internal Affairs of what’s going on.”

Mosby released a list of about 100 officers she would not call to testify last year, but most of those officers were no longer with BPD. She released a longer list of more than 300 officers with credibility issues in May after a protracted court battle.

Bates said he will communicate with BPD about why officers are being considered for the do-not-call list, including offering a warning so that police can understand what went wrong. (In an email, Mosby spokesperson Emily Witty said the office currently sends notification letters to officers explaining the reason for their inclusion on the list.)

“I will keep a do-not-call list, but I also feel if I work closely enough with the police department, hopefully they’ll understand that,” Bates said.

He will also tweak the office’s Public Trust and Police Integrity Unit, which took on renewed importance after federal investigators revealed a widespread network of police corruption in BPD’s Gun Trace Task Force in 2017.

Bates, who is perhaps best known for representing several individuals who were targeted by members of the GTTF, said he understands the importance of holding police officers accountable and will listen to defense lawyers who raise concerns about problematic officers.

“The criminal defense bar, you hear from your clients what’s going on,” Bates said. “One of the things I want to do is make it easier, more accessible, for the defense attorneys to have that opportunity to talk to that (police integrity) division.”

Bates said he will ask his prosecutors to emphasize legally sound prosecutions over convictions.

“Sometimes justice means you have to dismiss a case against a bad person because their constitutional rights were violated,” he said. “We will focus on constitutionally protected correct policing and administration of justice.”

Bates will also keep the Conviction Integrity Unit, which reviews past prosecutions and assesses whether they led to wrongful convictions. The office has faced recent controversy: A federal judge threw out a Baltimore man’s wrongful conviction lawsuit this month after concluding that he relied on a false affidavit when he applied for consideration by the Conviction Integrity Unit.

Bates said the judge’s lengthy opinion, which criticized the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office’s review process, gave him “great concern.”

He would prefer to see defense lawyers, rather than incarcerated defendants, bring potential wrongful conviction cases to the State’s Attorney’s Office.

“One of the things I’ve noticed is that it appears individuals could be incarcerated and they reach out to the Conviction Integrity Unit to have them try to do the investigation,” Bates said. “I think that’s backwards. I would like to see the individuals who are incarcerated reach out to the Public Defender’s Office or defense attorneys, and for the public defenders or the defense bar to do some sort of work and research and then reach out to us.”

Witty, Mosby’s spokesperson, said in response that “only reviewing claims of innocence from attorneys, and not from individuals currently incarcerated, is highly discriminatory and likely to maintain the ‘status quo’ of inequity within the criminal justice system.”

Bates said he will also try to involve crime victims’ families earlier in the exoneration process, alluding to Mosby’s recent decision to drop charges against Adnan Syed in a high-profile 1999 murder case.

Mosby’s office has faced criticism from the family of the victim, Hae Min Lee, over the short notice they received when prosecutors decided to vacate Syed’s conviction last month. Lee’s brother, Young Lee, wished to attend Syed’s court hearing in person but had too little time to fly in from California.

Mosby also publicly criticized Steven J. Kelly, a victim’s rights lawyer who is helping Lee’s family appeal.

“The interaction with the victim’s family caused a great deal of concern,” Bates said of the Syed case.

“Some of my views about what’s going on with the Conviction Integrity Unit have been shaped on what I’ve seen in the news media of the interaction with the family. I don’t know who’s right, I don’t know who’s wrong, but the one thing I do know is that everything did seem to move pretty quickly and the victim’s family wasn’t there.”

Mosby’s office has defended its handling of the case and its treatment of Lee’s family.

Bates said in 2018 that he would drop the charges against Syed and reopen the case. His administration may now inherit the ongoing investigation into alternative suspects in Lee’s killing.

But first, he will have to navigate the transition between Mosby’s administration and his own. Bates said he has not had “a great deal of communication” with Mosby’s office since his primary win in July.

“I’m really hoping that come (Election Day) that we’ll have a little more in-depth cooperation,” Bates said. For now, he is talking to former prosecutors to gain a deeper understanding of the office’s infrastructure.

Mosby has named her chief deputy, Janice Bledsoe, to be the point person for the transition. Witty said Bledsoe has “provided direction” about the office budget and structure and has agreed to facilitate next steps after the general election with Bates’ point person.

A major part of Bates’ job early in his tenure will be hiring for the office, which has faced serious staffing problems. Bates said he is still considering who will join his executive team and declined to name candidates.

Bates said he hopes to institute training sessions as quickly as possible so that newer line prosecutors can get up to speed quickly. He also said he plans to modernize the office so that prosecutors can spend less time navigating older technology.

But, as he has in the past, he also cautioned that changing the office will take time.

“It’s going to take a little while, but we do have a plan on what we need to do,” he said.