Twice, a major Indianapolis drug dealer was charged with possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon, an offense designed to reduce the murder rate. The crime carried a 20-year prison sentence. Yet twice prosecutors dropped the gun charge, allowing him to plead guilty to a lesser offense and escape a long prison term, reports the Indianapolis Star. Making such charges stick could significantly reduce the number of shootings in Indianapolis, some criminal justice experts say, because it would take gun-toting career criminals off the street. There is little or no dispute about the logic behind the law. “If you have a violent felon and he’s carrying a gun, practically nothing good can come of it,” said former Marion County prosecutor Scott Newman, who helped write the 1999 law.
A Star review of every gun charge in Marion County from 2009 to June of this year found that prosecutors dismissed 3,059 gun charges, including 1,508 felony counts. Among those dismissals were 371 charges for possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon. More than half of felony gun charges were dismissed, usually in plea agreements. Possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon — the charge specifically aimed at getting violent criminals off the streets — was dismissed in 41 percent of cases. A change in the state’s criminal code that began July 1 reduced the jail time for possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon. Why the charges meant to keep gunslingers off the street are dropped is a complicated question tangled in prosecutorial will, rules of evidence and sentencing practices written into the law. When shown the Star’s findings, Newman called for legislation to close the incentive to bargain away such charges. It is an idea endorsed by public safety officials.