U.S. attorney works to curtail city's violence The...


August 04, 2002

U.S. attorney works to curtail city's violence

The Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland understands the gravity, danger and depth of gun violence in Maryland and, in particular, in Baltimore City and Prince George's County ("Belated and urgent," editorial, Aug. 2).

Recently, Baltimore was ranked as the fourth-most-dangerous city in the country - and this violence is one reason for the decline in jobs, the departure of businesses from Baltimore and the flight of residents to other locations.

Federal prosecutions can have a significant impact on gun violence in Baltimore, and over the last six months our efforts have been directed at the three primary sources of gun violence.

First, this office has focused on dismantling violent drug organizations. The indictment in January of 12 members of a violent drug gang clearly demonstrates this commitment.

Second, this office has aggressively prosecuted individuals who use a firearm in a violent crime. The indictments in January and February in two violent carjacking cases that occurred in Baltimore clearly demonstrate this commitment.

Last year, we made 25 indictments for the use of a firearm in furtherance of a violent crime or drug-trafficking offense. Over the last six months, we have already made 24 such indictments.

Third, this office aggressively prosecutes convicted felons who possess a firearm. In particular, we have focused on individuals who have prior convictions for violent crime or drug-trafficking offenses. The 47 firearms prosecutions authorized by this office over the last five months clearly demonstrate that commitment.

In addition, we are committed to otherwise assisting the Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office and Police Department in their efforts to address gun violence.

But this office does not intend to prosecute cases where the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction, where the evidence was gathered impermissibly or where the potential penalty in the state criminal justice system is higher than can be achieved in federal court.

In 1997, this office greatly increased the number of federal firearms prosecutions. At the time, there was a need for federal prosecutions to fill a void, because no state law existed to provide a significant felony offense for gun possession prosecutions.

But with the passage of a Maryland law that provides for a five-year mandatory penalty for certain felons in possession of firearms, federal prosecution has become less pertinent, since the federal penalties in the majority of referred cases would be less than five years.

Under the U.S. attorney general's guidelines, a major consideration in accepting prosecutions is whether there is a more significant state penalty and state interest.

And many of the gun possession cases referred to our office from 1997 through 2001 involved defendants with only one prior felony conviction. Under the federal sentencing guidelines, their incarceration would have been much less than five years in most cases.

Recently, I have been encouraged to prosecute cases where the potential federal penalty is less severe than the state penalty. I believe that these sentiments are misplaced.

If this office, rather than the state, begins to prosecute these offenders, individuals who are the primary source of gun violence in Maryland will receive lesser sentences. I believe that these offenders should face the toughest penalties and that they do not deserve any type of break.

The division of these cases is working to the benefit of the community and against the bad guys.

For example, in 2000, the Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office charged eight defendants under the tougher state firearms law. So far this year, the state has charged 155 defendants.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Maryland continues to move forward in its approach to reducing violent crime, especially where firearms are present.

Although the quantity of prosecutions has been reduced, we have taken on the task of increasing the number of violent crime prosecutions by:

Opening the office to direct referrals from state and local agencies;

Developing working relationships at all levels of state and local law enforcement across the entire district;

Accepting and prosecuting the greatest number of death penalty eligible cases ever within the district;

Coordinating with federal and state agencies to prioritize targets and target areas of violent crime;

Providing training to federal, state and local law enforcement regarding the investigation and prosecution of violent offenders.

With the respective state jurisdictions effectively prosecuting many more felons in gun possession cases, this office is now able to focus its efforts on the prosecution of violent offenses.

And the District of Maryland now plays a major role in accepting and prosecuting the most violent offenders across the state.

Thomas M. DiBiagio


The writer is the U.S. attorney for the District of Maryland.

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