Gun Cases Moving up to the Feds?


In Alston v. State, an unusual opinion that was 8 years in the making, the Maryland Court of Appeals (Chief Judge Bell) held, among other things, that a felon in possession of a handgun is not subject to the mandatory 5 years without parole — if the predicate conviction was for a drug offense.  This is a decision that could have a huge impact in this city, where many people have felony drug convictions, and many people are caught with guns. Up to now “five years without” was a harsh quirk in an otherwise forgiving state system. Used to be, if you have a felony drug conviction, and you get caught with a gun, you get five years without parole. There were enough of these cases to wear a path up to steps to the Mitchell Courthouse, and indeed the feds laid off these cases because the state sentences were sufficiently harsh.

So what does this new ruling mean? Will sentences be more lenient for gun crimes in the City? Probably not. The COA ruling could have the unexpected consequence of sending more gun cases out of the state system and into the federal system. In the feds, of course, all the sentences are stiff, and the prosecutors have ways of piling years on top of defendants whom they want off the streets. Already I have heard whispers that the U.S. Attorney’s office will start ramping up its prosecutions of gun crimes. They feel like they have no choice. On July 11, moreover, the Mayor announced funding for two new state prosecutors who go on loan to the feds and will prosecute cases on Lombard Street. I have to think this at least partially relates back to the Alston ruling.