- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 3, 2006

BALTIMORE (AP) — Federal and local law-enforcement officials have agreed tentatively to a new plan to lock up any violent felon who carries a firearm in Baltimore.

The expanded “Baltimore Exile” program includes significant prison time for the city’s most dangerous criminals who carry guns.

The collaborative effort is being led by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and aims to reduce violent crime, including the city’s high homicide rate.

A draft is being reviewed by all of the agencies involved. It is expected to be approved this month. An advance copy was obtained by the Baltimore Sun.

“Our program is not about just diverting cases from state to federal prosecution,” Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein told the newspaper. “It is a unified and comprehensive strategy to employ existing and new federal, state and community resources to deter gun violence.”

The history of gun prosecutions in Baltimore has been filled with turf wars between local and federal officials.

Law-enforcement officials concede that defendants on gun charges in Baltimore routinely are released by judges before trial.

Prosecutors say defendants often commit other crimes during that lengthy period, which sometimes lasts more than a year.

A state law passed in 2000 requires a minimum prison sentence of five years for certain gun crimes, but the city’s conviction rate has been tempered by a local policy of no plea bargains on the charge.

Judges also throw out some gun cases because of what they say is faulty police work.

Juries have looked skeptically on the process at times, acquitting defendants in cases in which a guilty finding is warranted, officials say.

“Right now it’s perfectly clear that defendants are not intimidated by lawful authority — police, prosecutors and judges,” said Baltimore Circuit Judge John Glynn, who is in charge of the criminal division. “They are frequently offered generous plea bargains, and they still scoff at the state’s offer.”

A formal process to screen state cases for federal prosecution has been used since 1997. That’s when the city State’s Attorney’s Office created its Firearms Investigation Violence Enforcement division.

City officials, most notably Mayor Martin O’Malley, have criticized federal prosecutors for not taking more cases. Federal prosecutors have said they have taken more cases but rejected those they considered of low quality.

Gun cases in federal court in Baltimore dropped from 179 in 2000 to 109 in 2002, then rose to 158 in 2003 and remained flat until 2005, according to statistics compiled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Those numbers don’t account for cases with multiple defendants.

Modeled after Project Exile in Richmond, the new Baltimore program would push for pretrial detention for felons found with guns. It also would increase the threat of federal prosecution in an effort to push all gun cases through the state system more quickly.

“I expect to take more cases, but we don’t know how many,” Mr. Rosenstein said.

Part of the strategy will be for the U.S. Attorney’s Office to send letters to state prosecutors about the defendants eligible for federal prosecution. That technique has been used in the past, but was dropped in recent years, officials said.

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