WASHINGTON – Federal prosecutors in Maryland declined to prosecute most drug cases referred by the Drug Enforcement Agency last year, a study shows.
U.S. Attorney Lynne A. Battaglia prosecuted 102 of the 210 DEA-referred cases – 48.6 percent, according to statistics compiled by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.
Only nine of the other 89 federal jurisdictions prosecuted a smaller percentage of DEA cases.
In the region, Virginia’s eastern district, based in Alexandria, prosecuted 82.3 percent of its DEA referrals last year, the study found. The prosecution rate for DEA cases was 79.3 percent in Delaware, 78.6 in the District of Columbia and 67.7 percent in eastern Pennsylvania.
“We can’t prosecute everything,” said Stephen Schenning, first assistant U.S. attorney in Maryland.
Prosecutions can depend on the priorities set by a prosecutor’s office, said John C. Coffee, a Columbia University law professor who studies federal prosecutors.
“You’ll find that different U.S. attorneys can have different priorities,” Coffee said.
But Katharine J. Armentrout, chief of narcotics and violent crimes for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Maryland, said drugs are a priority in Maryland.
She attributed the low percentage of prosecutions of DEA cases to the U.S. attorney’s focus on “street-level violent narcotics trafficking.”
“When you’re doing street cases, you generate a lot of defendants,” Armentrout said.
The office is not going to prosecute federally every one brought in from a DEA arrest, just possibly the top four or five organizers, Armentrout said. The rest are prosecuted on the state level.
The study found that the only federal districts that prosecute a smaller percentage of DEA cases than Maryland are the western district of Arkansas, both of Indiana’s districts, the northern district of Mississippi, the western district of Kentucky, the middle district of Louisiana, the southern district of West Virginia, Alaska and the middle district of Tennessee.