Baltimore isn’t the country’s homicide capital—that distinction belongs to St. Louis—but it’s close. Charm City has registered more than 2,500 murders since 2015. Many of these killings could have been prevented, as my analysis of court records and police data shows, if the justice system had functioned as designed.
Look no further than the case of Deonte Walker, who was convicted of the January 2020 murder of Justin Antonio Johnson. Less than three years before the murder, Mr. Walker was charged with at least 10 counts and possibly more. (Under a 2020 Maryland law, criminal charges that do not lead to a conviction are suppressed from the state’s judiciary’s search tool.) District Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s office struck him a deal in exchange for a plea of guilty to two counts : robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery.
Although Mr Walker faced a maximum sentence of 15 years for each case, he only received two years and was released months before Johnson was murdered. He was found guilty of second-degree murder and firearms offenses in December 2021 and sentenced to 50 years in prison.
Baltimore’s murders are typically committed by criminals with long criminal records, who often serve only short sentences or are paroled. These repeat offenders should be jailed but aren’t, thanks to the carelessness of progressive prosecutors like Ms. Mosby.
Using a database of murder suspects provided by non-profit transparency organization Baltimore Witness, I analyzed the criminal histories of 110 suspects charged with murder in Baltimore between January 2019 and July 2020. My analysis shows that the majority of the city’s murders need not have happened.
Ninety of the defendants whose backgrounds I examined had previously been convicted of a felony that carried a prison sentence of three years or more. Most weren’t serving anywhere near that time. They were back on the streets when the murders they were charged with were committed, but they should have been behind bars.
More than half (77) of the 110 homicide detectives whose cases I have investigated had previously been convicted of major crimes under Ms. Mosby. At least 61 of those 77 were convicted of a crime that, if served in full, would have rendered them incapable of committing their alleged murders.
Ms Mosby, who has denounced mass incarceration and decriminalized a series of quality of life crimes in 2020, often uses a loophole in state sentencing rules to keep criminals out of jail. Under a “binding plea agreement,” Maryland prosecutors can consider a verdict “conforming” if it falls short of guidelines or even the minimum sentence required by law. All that needs to happen is for the prosecutor and defense attorney to agree to the plea before presenting it to the judge.
At this point, the judge retains only the right of veto. If the judge accepts the accused’s guilty plea, the agreed verdict cannot be changed. By dropping charges that carry long prison terms, prosecutors like Ms. Mosby can let offenders go without breaking the rules at all.
The Baltimore Police Department is overwhelmed. It has been able to identify and apprehend a suspect in just one in three murders since 2015. But most alleged killers are well known to law enforcement — more than 80% of identified suspects have criminal records, a quarter were on probation or probation at the time of murder, and in 2019 13% were suspects in prior homicides.
In last week’s Democratic primary, Baltimore voters cast their own verdict on Ms. Mosby, who is currently facing federal perjury charges. With only a few ballots left to count, Democrats rejected Ms. Mosby and her policies by a margin of 2 to 1. Her likely successor, Ivan Bates, has promised to reverse most of Ms. Mosby’s policies and tackle the city’s violence by locking up more guns and repeat offenders.
This change is welcome, but it will come too late for Justin Antonio Johnson and for too many Baltimore murder victims who might have been alive if their killers had served their deserved prison sentences.
Mr. Kennedy is a Visiting Fellow at the Maryland Public Institute and the author of the recent study, Baltimore’s Preventable Murders: The Role of Prior Convictions and Sentencing in Future Homicides.
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https://www.wsj.com/articles/in-marilyn-mosbys-baltimore-repeat-criminals-go-free-to-kill-murder-binding-plea-agreemennt-sentencing-prison-time-maryland-11658526203 In Marilyn Mosby’s Baltimore, Repeat Criminals Go Free to Kill