The chief judge of the Baltimore Circuit Court blasted city prosecutors in an armed robbery case yesterday for offering a plea bargain he termed a "disgrace" that would signal a weak stance against violent crime.
Judges sometimes reject plea agreements as being too lenient, but Chief Judge Robert I. H. Hammerman used such an occasion yesterday to deliver a scathing speech that asked whether State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms approves of plea bargains that send the message that armed robbers can expect to spend only six months behind bars.
"I think it's a disgrace for the state's attorney's office to come in and try to plea-bargain a case like this," said Judge Hammerman, a member of the Circuit Court bench since 1967. "I will not be a part of it. Absolutely not."
Mr. Simms said he called the judge later to explain that the offer had been made after considering factors in the case that were not brought out in court. Mr. Simms refused to specify those factors, noting that the case is now scheduled to go to trial, but he stood behind an assistant state's attorney's handling of the matter.
The judge's remarks came during a hearing involving Archie A. Jones, a 30-year-old East Baltimore man charged with using a shotgun in the Nov. 22 robbery of a fast-food restaurant in the 2000 block of N. Howard St.
Mr. Jones, charged with armed robbery, assault and handgun crimes, agreed to enter an Alford plea to a reduced charge of robbery in exchange for a sentence of five years in prison with all but six months suspended. Under an Alford plea, a defendant does not admit guilt but acknowledges that the prosecution's evidence is sufficient for a conviction.
In a statement of facts presented to the court, Assistant State's Attorney David C. Chiu said two men entered the restaurant and, after herding employees to an area behind the counter, forced a manager to open a safe.
Court records show the men made off with $800. The prosecutor said one of the four employees presented with a photographic array was able to identify Mr. Jones as the shotgun-wielding robber.
Saying he found the evidence against the defendant to be "overwhelming," Judge Hammerman then rejected the plea agreement.
"I would like to know if the state's attorney's office would like the public to know that's their position on a crime of this nature," the judge told Mr. Chiu. "If you had a completely weak case maybe there is some justification for this, . . . but it was just the opposite.
"I'd like to know if Mr. Simms OKs that and if your supervisor OK'd that plea."
Later, Mr. Simms said Mr. Chiu "had taken the best steps possible to bring this case to some reasonable resolution even though it raised some concerns in terms of a weapon being involved. There were certain handicaps he had to take into account."
Mr. Simms said he suggested to his assistant issues worthy of further investigation in preparation for the trial, now scheduled for May 18. The defendant is being held in lieu of $50,000 bond pending trial.