Baltimore police and prosecutors are putting forth every effort to combat a growing and persistent spike in violence. Their efforts are being thwarted by a legal system that doesn’t seem to want to cooperate. A Baltimore Sun analysis suggests that criminals that commit illegal gun crimes often receive light punishments.
It appears that, in Baltimore, illegal gun charges are being reduced or dropped before they have a chance to go to trial about twenty five percent of the time. The sentence, on average, for illegally possessing a firearm is 16 months in jail. Most convicts have a considerable part of their sentences suspended. Police data indicates that most of these people are also granted bail.
A 23-year-old Baltimore man was arrested with a fully loaded revolver. He was granted bail and is now being accused of fatally stabbing a man in Baltimore County five days after his release. He had a felony record and faced a mandatory five years in prison on the gun charge before being released on bail.
Police Commissioner Kevin Davis says, “There’s no certainty of a consequence in the Baltimore justice system.” He believes that carrying an illegal gun should be viewed as a “pre-murder” crime. The Baltimore Sun also reported that the city of Baltimore is on track for more than 300 homicides this year. Last year’s count reached a historic per-capita high.
Police Commissioner Kevin Davis and State Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby are launching a new unit that will focus more closely on these gun crimes to ensure their cases are stronger and that they secure better convictions. This month, Mosby named a veteran homicide prosecutor to oversee the unit.
Mosby says that some of the solutions lie in better cooperation between police and prosecutors and that a large number of illegal gun cases are dropped because of technicalities and avoidable circumstances, including questions over the legality of stops and officers failing to appear in court.
Another problem is that many of those who recieve bail or reduced sentences go on to commit even more serious crimes shortly after. In November 2015, Taiquan Moss and Kenneth Ballard were driving through West Baltimore when they were pulled over for having a license plate propped up in the window. The Baltimore police saw Ballard make a move toward the floor of the car and ordered them out of the car. There was a revolver under the passenger seat. As a result, both men were charged with firearm offenses.
The judge acquitted the two men of the charges they faced. He said the arresting officer went too far when he leaned into the vehicle to observe the gun, which meant the gun hadn’t been in plain view. Just two months later, Ballard was sentenced to three years in prison on drug charges in Baltimore County. In late May, Moss was arrested again with a handgun and ordered held without bond.
In 2008, city officials reported that nearly 60 percent of defendants charged with gun crimes were held without bail, and about 30 percent received bail of more than $100,000. Only 8 percent received a bail below $100,000. Police data from this year show 34 percent of defendants charged with gun crimes were held without bail, and nearly 20 percent received a bail below $100,000.