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Rosenstein: Federal prosecutors did the right thing in crack cases

Drug TraffickingJustice SystemHomicideRod J. RosensteinSafety of Citizens

The U.S. Attorney's Office approves reduced sentences for criminals who deserve them, but with the caveat that some crack cocaine dealers seeking early release from federal prison are violent. The Sun obscures the issue by claiming that federal crack guidelines led to convictions of "hundreds of thousands of petty offenders who were sentenced to long prison terms" ("Crack and the courts," Dec. 1). The truth is that only a few hundred Maryland drug dealers are eligible for sentence reductions. Most are far from petty offenders, and many belong to organizations that foment violence and terrorize law-abiding citizens.

It is unfair to assert that "federal prosecutors didn't do their job when they settled for putting dangerous criminals away on drug charges rather than prosecute them for violent crimes." More than 2,500 victims were murdered in Baltimore City during the past decade, and nearly 6,000 victims suffered nonfatal gunshots. Many of the perpetrators will never be convicted of those crimes. But much of the violence is drug-related, so prosecutors sometimes pursue federal drug distribution charges to help end the bloodshed.

Nobody accused Elliott Ness of incompetence when he nabbed Al Capone for federal tax evasion. Capone's gang committed many murders, including the infamous Valentine's Day Massacre of seven rival gang members. One victim was still alive when police arrived. Bleeding from fourteen bullet wounds, the gangster faithfully lied, "Nobody shot me." Federal prosecutors did their job by sending Capone to federal prison for the most serious readily provable crime.

The national murder rate doubled from 1960 to 1990, fueled by drug dealers. The murder wave has receded in most of the nation, and it is receding in Baltimore City. Still, Baltimoreans are murdered at a rate eight times the national average, and many of the killings are drug-related. Meanwhile, dealers are hooking the next generation of addicts and ruining their lives. Try telling the victims' families that drug dealers "pose little threat to public safety."

Rod J. Rosenstein, Baltimore

The writer is Maryland's U.S. Attorney.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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