Baltimore State's Attorney telling tales about gun possession case?

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

First off, a huge tip of the hat and round of applause for Baltimore Banner reporter Dylan Segelbaum for an excellent job of reporting on the rhetoric from Baltimore State’s Attorney Ivan Bates and the reality of a case involving a West Virginia man arrested for illegally possessing a gun in the city. Far too many local media outlets in Baltimore take a dim view of the Second Amendment and the right to keep and bear arms that bleeds into their reporting, but Segelbaum played it straight in his coverage of the arrest of Sean Hanratty and the ultimate dismissal of his charges.


As Segelbaum reported, Bates is trying to claim that the dismissal of Hanratty’s case was an act of prosecutorial largesse and discretion; a characterization that both Hanratty and his public defender vociferously refute.

Prosecutors, he said, have to use their common sense. Bates went on to discuss a case that he said his office decided not to prosecute in which Baltimore Police charged a man from West Virginia who had legally purchased a handgun after law enforcement found the weapon in the trunk.
“My common sense said, ‘OK. I understand this individual’s from a different state. I understand the law is different,’” Bates said during the televised town hall. “Do we really make sense to prosecute this individual that in West Virginia’s done everything proper?”
But the court record reflects that’s not what happened. The Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office was actually moving forward with the prosecution — and even asked for a postponement — and dropped the charges only after a judge excluded evidence in the case.
“They tried to get me over and over,” said Sean Hanratty, 53, a senior network engineer from Falling Waters, West Virginia, who had been facing two counts including wearing, carrying or transporting a handgun without a permit. “That is a complete lie.”
Hanratty was arrested back on February 28th after getting into a minor car accident on his way to drop a friend off at his car. When police arrived, they suspected Hanratty of driving under the influence (which wasn’t the case), and in the process of searching his vehicle discovered a magazine with twelve rounds in between the driver’s seat and center console of his vehicle. A 9mm handgun with a round in the chamber was found in Hanratty’s trunk; a violation of Maryland’s firearm transport laws that require guns to be locked up, unloaded, and inaccessible to the driver and passengers.
Hanratty was forced to spend several days in the Baltimore jail, and appeared in a city courtroom on April 3rd for a trial on felony charges. According to his attorney, prosecutors were prepared to move forward with its case until a judge quashed the appearance of two of the state’s witnesses.
Deputy District Public Defender Alycia Capozello, Hanratty’s attorney, asked a judge to throw out the charges or exclude the testimony of two witnesses.
Capozello said the state failed to provide notice that it intended to call a police officer and a firearms examiner as expert witnesses, which must be done before trial under the rules in Maryland.
“The state has a poorly prepared case that it should not be prosecuting in the first place,” Capozello said.
Assistant State’s Attorney Steven Kang argued against the request and then asked for a postponement.
District Judge Ana D. Hernandez later ruled that there was good cause to exclude the testimony of the two witnesses and remarked that she did not understand why the state had failed to disclose that information from the beginning.
“Where does that leave us now?” Hernandez asked.
“State will be entering a nol-pros, your honor,” Kang replied, using the Latin term for abandoning a prosecution.
That’s a very different story than the one that Bates peddled on live TV, though his office offered the Baltimore Banner an explanation for the discrepancy.
In an email, James Bentley, a spokesperson for the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office, said it offered to put the case on the inactive docket with the requirement that Hanratty forfeit the gun. Bates, he said, stated that he was not targeting people with legitimate out-of-state permits — and kept his word.
Prosecutors proceeded with the case after Hanratty rejected that agreement, Bentley said. “The Court ruled in favor of the defense motion and we had to dismiss the case,” he said.
Actually, that’s not really an explanation at all, is it? Even if Bates had offered to place Hanratty’s case on the inactive docket, he was still targeting someone with a legitimate out-of-state permit by trying to force Hanratty to forfeit his legally-owned firearm, something that he thankfully rejected even though he was potentially facing a three-year prison sentence if he’d been convicted.
The sad thing is that Bates clearly understands what the right course of action would have been, because he claimed his office took it. Rather than exercise discretion and restraint as he alleged he did, the truth is that he was prepared to prosecute Hanratty and send him to prison simply for having a gun in the trunk of his car and a magazine in the passenger compartment right up until the moment the case fell apart. Bates doesn’t get to pat himself on the back for not prosecuting Sean Hanratty, and he certainly doesn’t get to make up tall tales about his “common sense” approach when the reality is that he only decided to drop the case when prosecutors weren’t convinced they could get a conviction.
What happened to Sean Hanratty should not only be a cautionary tale for other out-of-state gun owners who might be traveling through Baltimore, but a strong case for national right to carry reciprocity. Hanratty’s First Amendment rights didn’t disappear when he crossed the state line into Maryland, so why should his right to keep and bear arms become null and void when he left his home state? I’m glad for Hanratty that he won’t have to make that argument as he appeals a conviction, but the sooner the courts or Congress put an end to this untenable status quo the better.

Join the conversation as a VIP Member