The Baltimore Sun reports that a combination of pressures, including an overloaded criminal docket and uncooperative witnesses, lead to plea deals that can appear to be generous. The story is keyed to a controversial deal in connection the case of an 18-year-old gang member who killed two young people. He will serve 25 years in prison, and a relative of one of his victims said “it makes us sick to our stomachs” that he’ll be free at age 43. The judge in the case said he had “reluctantly” accepted the plea deal.
More than half of the 179 homicide cases that reached the courts last year in Baltimore ended in plea agreements, compared with 35 jury convictions. Plea agreements accounted for about one-third of the 711 nonfatal shooting and gun cases in Circuit Court. “Especially in murder cases, in a city where there are too many, a plea secures a conviction against the many unknown variables that can affect a juror’s decision to convict,” said Margaret T. Burns, spokeswoman for the city state’s attorney’s office. Those variables, she said, include “missing, incomplete or a total lack of evidence…recanting, missing or underground witnesses.”