Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Fire Arms Investigation Enforcement Unit

Christina Bostick writes from Baltimore,

There was never a quiet day in the Fire Arms Investigation Enforcement Unit (FIVE) at the Baltimore State's Attorney's Office. There are fifteen attorneys, four secretaries, six law clerks, and an infinite amount of witnesses and attorneys constantly moving in and out of the office. The work is glum, but spirits are high and there is always an interesting assignment to be conquered. At any given time three to five attorneys could be in trial at one time and I had the opportunity to watch all of them.

One of the most memorable cases assigned to FIVE never went to trial. A young man was shot; saw the shooter; and was willing to testify against the shooter in court. His willingness to testify was a big deal because there is a "no snitching" movement in Baltimore and witnesses typically say they did not see anything, recant later, or disappear. However, in this case, his cooperation would not matter. He was a convicted perjurer and, according to Maryland law, he could not testify in a court of law. Or could he? It was my job to put my legal research skills to the test by investigating the constraints of this rule. As justice would seem to require, the rule could be bent when the convicted perjurer is the victim and the only witness. A judge can use his or her discretion in determining whether the testimony is essential to the preservation of justice. Even if the testimony would be allowed, the jury could be informed of his past perjury conviction. Consequently, the lawyers did not see this as a case they could win and decided not to pursue it.

The question of whether or not something can be proved in court or if the case could be won is a question I heard over and over again throughout the summer. FIVE must approve all arrest and search warrants that involve a shooting or handgun violation and a warrant is not approved unless there is clear evidence against the suspect. A typical warrant approval involves an officer coming into the office, giving a synopsis of why a warrant should be issued, listening to recorded statements, and a lengthy discussion about whether or not a warrant should be issued. Participating in these discussions was probably my favorite part of this internship because they provided me with an opportunity to look at the facts and construct my own opinion. Moreover, seasoned attorneys whom I was there to learn from valued that opinion.

Before this experience I was not sure whether or not criminal law would hold my interests. Thanks to EJF, I now know it is a career option I would love to explore further.

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