Ivey Defends Vetting Procedures

By Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 16, 2007

Prince George's County prosecutors were taken by surprise this spring in at least three felony cases that were underway:

A 13-year-old girl who was asked in court to identify the man who allegedly raped her pointed to a man sitting in the spectator's gallery -- not to the University of Maryland senior who was the defendant. Charges against the student were dropped.

An assistant public defender told prosecutors that bank surveillance video of a robbery and eyewitness descriptions showed that the robber wasn't his client. The prosecutor agreed, and during a hearing, a judge acquitted the defendant, a Hyattsville man who had spent six months in jail awaiting trial.

A Germantown man accused of abduction and rape testified during his trial that he and the alleged victim had once been engaged -- a revelation to the prosecution. The jury acquitted him in less than 30 minutes.

Some defense lawyers say the cases, all of which culminated in April, illustrate a troubling pattern of police charges not being thoroughly screened before prosecutors move forward to obtain grand jury indictments.

Prince George's State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey (D) said the circumstances of those cases were very different and do not point to a systemic problem.

Ivey said that, in general, his office does a good job screening and evaluating evidence in the 7,500 felony cases that it handles annually. The office has 75 prosecutors to work on felonies and misdemeanors.

"We screen cases thoroughly," Ivey said in a statement. "We have pre-indictment review committee meetings to ensure cases with difficult legal issues are comprehensively analyzed. There are also pre-trial strategy meetings with experienced prosecutors to discuss the best approaches to use in a trial. Considering the number of cases we prosecute and the limitation of our resources, we do a remarkable job."

Sharon Taylor, a county police spokeswoman, said police and prosecutors work together to evaluate felony charges after an arrest. "Whether a case continues to move forward to indictment is heavily dependent on the state's attorney's legal assessment of whether the criteria has been met to do so."

But defense lawyer Richard A. Finci, who practices in Prince George's, Montgomery, Anne Arundel and Howard counties, said similar issues seem to be resolved more quickly in those counties.

"Thorough screening is the function that determines which cases need resources and aggressive prosecution and weeds out those that can be dropped or reduced quickly," said Finci, a past president of the Maryland Criminal Defense Attorneys' Association. "While there has been slow progress in Prince George's County, it's still a problem."

The Prince George's police public information office said the department is reviewing what "investigative procedures" occurred in the robbery and abduction cases.

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