U.S. promises prison terms for armed criminals

June 30, 1998|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

Standing behind more than 50 sawed-off shotguns, submachine guns and high-caliber handguns seized in the Baltimore area, local and federal authorities said yesterday they are looking to send a message to armed criminals.

"If you're a repeat offender, and you carry a gun, you will go to federal prison -- without parole," said Lynne A. Battaglia, the U.S. attorney for Maryland. "The Disarm program is doing what our communities are asking: taking violent offenders off the street."

Disarm, a joint effort of state and federal agents, aims to impose stiff sentences on criminals shown to be repeat offenders with a history of violence or drug trafficking. Federal sentences are generally considered tougher than state sentences because there is no chance of parole.

Since Disarm began four years ago, 173 people have been prosecuted under the tougher federal statutes and each has received an average sentence of eight years without parole, authorities said at a news conference at Baltimore police headquarters yesterday.

The tougher sentences are usually reserved for criminals who show lengthy criminal histories. Many of those who were prosecuted under the program would not have faced more than two years of jail time if sentenced in state court.

"Many of them have rap sheets that go the length of this room," said Battaglia, holding one of the sheets in her hand and letting the pages drop to the floor.

Among those prosecuted, for instance, was Michael Keith Jefferson, 29, who was sentenced to 24 years in prison without parole in April in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. Before being charged under the Disarm program, he was facing prosecution in Baltimore District Court for illegally carrying a handgun, a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of five years.

He was prosecuted federally because of an extensive criminal history -- he had four previous convictions for armed robbery and one conviction for drugs. He never served more than four years on any of the sentences.

Authorities said that a study of 79 criminals prosecuted under the Disarm program showed that collectively, the group had 1,158 prior arrests and 395 prior convictions.

Among the weapons seized from Disarm felons were a 9mm Cobray "Street Sweeper" handgun, a Luger submachine pistol, a fully automatic rifle, and numerous sawed-off shotguns, authorities said.

Pub Date: 6/30/98

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