Why Did Delaware Drop 71 Percent Of Its 11,000+ Gun Charges Filed Between 2012-2014?

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Jan 21, 2016 4:40 PM
Why Did Delaware Drop 71 Percent Of Its 11,000+ Gun Charges Filed Between 2012-2014?

Gun control advocates think we need more laws, gun rights supporters think we have enough laws on the books–it’s just that they’re not being enforced. In Delaware, there have been over 11,000 gun charges filed, but 71 percent have been dropped in plea deals in order to put criminals behind bars. If a criminal confesses to a crime, or takes a deal since the evidence would have landed him a more lengthy prison term if he or she had gone to trial, we should all rejoice. A felon is off the streets, yet are gun charges the ones that should be axed with these legal negotiations? (via USA Today):

From 2012 to 2014, more than 11,700 felony weapon charges were filed in Delaware, and in most cases, the weapon was a gun. Yet, 71 percent of those charges disappeared before trials began.

State prosecutors said they're not surprised by the rate, but said there is more to it than those raw numbers. They said that cases usually have multiple charges, and that in Superior Court where felony trials occur, they get some sort of conviction in 87 percent of cases involving a firearm.

Most of the time, 62 percent, the convictions are for gun offenses.

[…]

"Cases are defendants and it's the defendants who we are prosecuting and it's the defendant for whom we are seeking incarceration, not a charge," said Steve Wood, who, with more than 30 years' experience is one of the most senior prosecutors in the Delaware Attorney General's Office. He said the important thing is to get a conviction.

Wood said if a defendant is charged with homicide and gun charges, prosecutors will sometimes drop the firearms charges in exchange for a guilty plea in the homicide. He called that result a victory because the defendant is going to prison for a long time.

"Nobody would care that a charge was dropped to get there," Wood said.

Then there is the case of Mateo Pinkston.

In late summer 2011, court documents say Pinkston walked up to a man, pointed a gun at him and took his cellphone.

Pinkston, who had already been convicted of two felonies and was a suspect in a still-unsolved homicide, was arrested by Wilmington police and charged with robbery and several gun counts.

But the Delaware Attorney General's Office cut a deal with him in 2012, agreeing to drop three weapon charges that carried a maximum of 41 years in prison in exchange for Pinkston admitting to second-degree robbery and terroristic threatening, which carried a maximum of eight years in prison.

Soon after being released from his 12-month prison sentence, Pinkston, police said, shot and killed 25-year-old Arteise Brown in Wilmington last year.

The publication added that State Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, a Republican, has been tracking the number of dropped gun charges for the past three years in order to help the state attorney general better prosecute these crimes. Not every single gun charge will be prosecuted; Pettyjohn knows this as our system is geared towards plea-bargaining. But the senator is more concerned with the crimes in which a firearm was used during a felony:

According to the 2012-2014 report by the Delaware Criminal Justice Council, of the more than 5,300 charges involving a gun or other weapon during the commission of a felony, 80 percent were not prosecuted in those three years.

"I don't think a weapons charge should be dropped," he said. "I think that we can drop some other charges, but if they're committing a felony with a weapon, whether its a knife or a hammer, ... I think we should be prosecuting for that. That would send a very strong message that the Attorney General's Office is very serious about prosecuting these crimes."

Not prosecuting gun charges makes him question why new gun laws are needed.

"I think we've got enough and I think we really need to start prosecuting the crimes that we have now," he said.

It looks as if this isn’t a case about law enforcement not doing their job. They obviously did their duty with the vast amount of weapons charges added to the various dockets; it’s prosecutorial discretion. Yet, even there, prosecutors face problems with standards for trial–an officer’s bar for probable cause is lower–and expenses. Some legal departments don’t have the manpower to prosecute every gun crime. Prosecutors also gave the news organization examples of when they might drop weapons charges:

Five probationers are in a car and there's a gun on the seat and the vehicle is stopped by police. That officer has enough probable cause to charge all five with possession of a firearm by a person prohibited. But prosecutors will only indict the person whose fingerprints match prints on the gun, dropping the charges against the other four.

A man gets charged by police with burglary and carrying a deadly weapon, which turns out to be a baseball bat. As prosecutors investigate the matter, they might end up dropping the weapons charge because the suspect is an avid baseball player who had the bat at the time of his arrest, not necessarily when he committed the burglary.

[…]

For every Pinkston case, where the conviction prosecutors achieve is for less time than a gun charge, Grubb says, there is a Jose Quinones, a 33-year-old arrested last year after being shot by a BP service station clerk he was trying to rob at gunpoint. A joint investigation by state and Wilmington police linked Quinones to at least 14-armed robberies.

Quinones is expected to receive a 30-year jail sentence.

Regardless, it appears there are enough laws that ensnare criminals on weapons charges. The question is how do we increase the number of convictions? Do we increase the number of people working for the state regarding the prosecution of law? This would require an increase in expenditures to law departments and the expansion of staffs, which is an increase in the size and scope of government. I’m sure some on the right might fell uneasy about spending more money. At the same time, this is to protect the rule of law. The National Rifle Association has no qualms about adding more ATF assets to make the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) operate more efficiently.

We don’t need more gun control laws, which, at this point, only infringe on a law-abiding citizen's right to own firearms. The debate it seems, besides tackling the long ignored issue of mental health, is beefing up our legal system so we can get these folks off the street.