The old adage “don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time” is lost on the city of Baltimore.
According to analysis by the Baltimore Sun, in cases against people caught in possession of a firearm illegally, sentences are either adjudicated or charges are dropped before defendants even go to trial.
In other words, criminals know they can do the crime without doing time.
Of the 100 illegal-gun cases, compiled with defendants arrested between November and March, the Sun found approximately one-quarter of the cases were dropped, a rate State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby calls ‘typical’.
Mosby said the average sentence for such gun crimes since she took office in January 2015 has been 16 months. This year, police say the number is lower — six months for those cases that have been adjudicated.
Prosecutors say people convicted of having a gun in a vehicle have received 6 percent of the total possible sentence they could receive. People convicted of carrying an illegal gun have received 15 percent of the available time, while felons convicted of possessing a firearm received 25 percent of the total possible sentence.
Prosecutors said even when an individual is convicted of illegal possession of a firearm, they are sentenced an average of 16 months in jail, with a substantial portion of their sentence suspended.
Daniel Webster, a Johns Hopkins University professor who studies gun crime and has been consulting with city leaders, said research shows “focusing on gun offenders very consistently, when done well, correlates with fewer people getting shot.”
But police data collected showed that few people arrested with illegal guns are ordered held without bail.
In one case, a 23-year-old man was granted bail after being arrested in the city with a fully loaded revolver and is now accused of fatally stabbing a man in Baltimore County five days after his release. The arrestee had a felony record and faced a mandatory five years in prison on the gun charge.
“There’s no certainty of a consequence,” Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said of the Baltimore justice system, adding that he believes carrying an illegal gun should be viewed as a “pre-murder” crime.
And criminals are proving they fear no consequences through their actions.
In November 2015, Taiquan Moss and Kenneth Ballard were pulled over for having a license plate propped up in the window. Police said they saw Ballard make a movement toward the floor, and ordered the men out. Sticking out from under the passenger seat was a revolver, and both were charged with firearms offenses.
In court, their attorneys sought to suppress the gun as evidence, arguing police had no grounds to remove the men from the vehicle. Baltimore Circuit Judge Louis Becker agreed, and after suppressing the evidence, he acquitted the two men of the charges they faced.
“Sometimes what constitutes good police work does not pass muster in the cold, calm atmosphere of a Baltimore courtroom,” Becker said at the hearing.
Two months after the acquittal, 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.
Earlier this year, Commissioner Davis lobbied unsuccessfully to impose a mandatory one-year prison sentence for anyone caught with a loaded, illegal firearm, with a second offense requiring a sentence of at least five years. He has previously expressed his frustration that police efforts to end gun violence is being undermined by the judicial system and says he’s working to introduce a revised bill in next year’s legislative session.
Despite the fact that Baltimore is one of the most lethal cities in America, Davis and Mosby also cautioned residents against ‘feeling they need to arm themselves’.