The federal connection

October 01, 2007

Carlos Woods is learning the hard way what it means to be tagged a violent repeat offender by law enforcement in Baltimore. Mr. Woods, 23, has been a target of police and prosecutors since 2001 because of his alleged role in crimes of violence, including murder and attempted murder. He managed to escape any serious jail time, but now he's facing 20 years or more in prison because state and federal prosecutors were creative, timely and relentless in using the law to convict him any way they could. It's an approach that works - and that we'd like to see used more often.

The office of U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein and an array of federal investigators who work with it have teamed up with city police and prosecutors to identify defendants with violent pasts who have slipped through the state system. At least 30 defendants have been imprisoned as a result of the violent repeat offender program, officials say. That's a laudable start toward helping Baltimore stem its violent crime problem.

In the Woods case, prosecutors relied on federal narcotics laws to convict him, and because he had two prior felony convictions, his sentence for possessing two grams of powdered cocaine was enhanced.

The amount of cocaine seized from Mr. Woods wouldn't necessarily have landed him in federal court. But city police and prosecutors had Mr. Woods on their list of targets, and when he was released from the state prison system this year, they kept tabs on him. Suspecting he was back in the game, they alerted their federal colleagues, and Mr. Woods was arrested on drug charges 42 days after he left prison.

That case shows the power of the federal system to keep violent offenders off the street for a long time, and the vulnerabilities of the state criminal justice system. Mr. Woods had been convicted of drug charges in state court in 2005 and sentenced to 17 years, all but seven years suspended. But he served less than two years and was released.

That won't happen this time. Repeat offenders who keep returning to the streets are members of a select club - those responsible for much of Baltimore's violent crime. Systematically reducing their number can't happen fast enough.

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