Longer state sentences are urged

April 07, 1995|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Sun Staff Writer

To keep felons off the streets, Maryland's top federal prosecutor called yesterday for tougher sentences in state court and said state laws should be rewritten to limit parole.

U.S. Attorney Lynne A. Battaglia said strict, no-parole federal sentences are the only way to keep violent offenders in prison.

"We are dealing with a lot of people who have guns, who shouldn't have guns," she said at a news conference touting a federal program to sweep guns from Baltimore streets. "The local courts, if anything, can't handle the volume of all of this. We must have a federal interaction to take the guns off the street."

Ms. Battaglia did not suggest specific reforms for the parole system, but she praised the minimum sentencing guidelines that federal judges must follow.

"I think that we would recommend that the statutes be rewritten," she said. "We would also recommend that the issue of parole be reviewed. That, of course, is happening throughout the United States. It happened in the federal system earlier."

She and other officials, including Baltimore's police chief and state's attorney, held up Anthony D. Hawks as a prime example of the state system's problems.

He has been arrested 33 times since 1974 and has nine convictions -- including four for violent felonies. But it wasn't until May, when federal prosecutors yanked him out of state court in midtrial and indicted him on federal gun charges, that he received a substantial sentence -- 26 years without parole.

Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier said that within two weeks of one of Hawks' drug arrests in January 1994, he was out on bail and "back in business doing exactly the same thing with no fear of the system whatsoever. We have to come up with a way to deal with this issue and answer the question of how someone could be arrested so many times for so many violent crimes and still be on the streets of Baltimore."

Authorities hope the program called "Project Disarm" will do just that. Prosecutors are culling criminal records back to 1990, looking for repeat gun offenders. They plan to bring federal charges against suspects who have convictions.

A crime that would draw a sentence of only three or four years in state court can trigger a minimum 15-year sentence in the federal system, where there is no parole and those convicted must serve at least 85 percent of their sentences.

Since "Project Disarm" started in May, eight people have been convicted, indicted or have pleaded guilty. On average, each had been arrested 14 times and had six prior convictions.

Since Oct. 1, violent criminals in the state prison system have been required to serve at least half their prison sentences before becoming eligible for parole, rather than the one-fourth. Officials say about 500 of Maryland's 20,000 inmates will remain in prison longer under the new guidelines.

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