Baltimore Council committee to debate 1-year mandatory sentence for gun offenders Tuesday

A Baltimore City Council committee plans to debate a proposal for a new 1-year mandatory minimum sentence for first-time gun offenders after a hearing Tuesday.

The seven-member Judiciary and Legislative Investigations committee will meet at 10 a.m. to hear testimony about the bill and then take a vote on the measure, said Councilman Eric T. Costello, the committee’s chairman.

Four members of the committee — Costello, Edward Reisinger, Robert Stokes and Leon Pinkett — have said they intend to support the bill. Councilman Brandon Scott is opposed, while Council members Mary Pat Clarke and John Bullock have said they’re undecided.

Baltimore gun offenders vary, Sun review shows

“It’s going to get the people illegally carrying firearms off the street and give them a time out to think about whether they want to continue to carry a gun and wreak havoc on our community,” Costello said of the bill.

Costello argued the bill is one part of the City Council’s efforts to combat crime. The council also increased money for schools and preserved funding for the anti-violence Safe Streets program, he noted.

“We’ve going to continue tor prioritize youth and education. These things are not mutually exclusive,” he said.

Baltimore is suffering from a record high murder rate this year. Through mid-July, more than 500 people have been shot this year in the city. Gun arrests are down 31 percent.

In response, Mayor Catherine Pugh, Police Commissioner Kevin Davis and leaders on the City Council are pushing the bill that would require a mandatory one-year sentence for illegal gun possession in much of the city — within 100 yards of a school, park, church, public building or other public place of assembly.

The bill would prevent any part of the one-year sentence from being suspended. Supporters say they want to remove the discretion of judges to allow gun offenders to return to the street quickly.

But opponents say imposing mandatory sentences – the bill would require a mandatory $1,000 fine on top of jail time – would not be effective and would result in people being unfairly treated, especially if they are black.

Opponents of the bill, including five members of the City Council, plan to hold a press conference against the legislation Tuesday at 9 a.m. outside City Hall.

“I’m disappointed and disgusted we’re having a hearing oin a mandatory minimum bill in 2017 and an administration in Baltimore is pushing a mandatory minimum, just like ;Attorney General] Jeff Sessions,” Scott said.

Baltimore police say gun offenses are too lightly punished in Baltimore. In the past year and a half, police say 60 percent of 605 convicted gun offenders received more than half their sentence suspended.

More than 100 people were arrested at least twice on handgun charges during that time; seven people were arrested three times, according to police.

Even as supporters of the bill have been pitching the legislation as an important stiffening of the city’s gun laws, the mayor’s office argued that prosecutors would retain discretion and that passing the bill would not amount to the adoption of a zero tolerance policy.

State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby’s office would still get to decide whether it was appropriate to bring the mandatory minimum charge and could opt to drop it or pursue different charges. Supporters argue the bill merely gives her office one more tool for prosecutions.

Maryland already has a battery of gun charges on the books.

Illegally possessing a firearm carries a penalty of up to three years in prison for a first offense. A second offense carries a mandatory minimum punishment of one year and can bring a sentence of up to 10 years. A third offense carries a minimum terms of three years.

If the gun is used in a crime of violence, the law states the sentence must be at least five years without the possibility of parole. The law also states that judges may not suspend mandatory minimum sentences on a repeated offense.

An offender already convicted of a violent crime faces a mandatory minimum sentence of five years and a maximum penalty of 15 years if he or she possesses a firearm.

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