Project Exile: Rep. Robert Ehrlich (R-Md.)|
Wednesday, February 16, 2000
According to officials in Richmond, Va., the number of murders in the city has dropped by more than 30 percent each year since 1997, when Project Exile was enacted. The Richmond program sends crime suspects possessing a gun to the federal courts, where sentences tend to be longer, and bond unlikely to be low enough for them to make.
Rep. Robert Ehrlich (R-Md.) has joined with Maryland lawmakers in an effort to bring the program to their state. According to Ehrlich's office, the murder rate in Baltimore has increased from 43 murders per 100,000 persons to 46 per 100,000 persons since 1994, and just 275 suspects have been indicted under federal law in that time. Ehrlich and other lawmakers point to Project Exile as a way to cut that statistic.
Rep. Robert Ehrlich (R-Md.)
Ehrlich, a three-term congressman, represents Maryland's 2nd District. He talked about Project Exile and Maryland anti-crime measures on "Free Media" on Wednesday, Feb. 16. The transcript follows:
Free Media: Good afternoon, Rep. Ehrlich, and welcome. Can you tell us some of the specifics of Project Exile, and the kind of laws you support enacting in Maryland?
Rep. Robert Ehrlich: Project Exile is a proven crime-fighting initiative currently working in Richmond.
The unique aspect of Project Exile is that it requires no new federal gun laws. The program begins with the notion that all felon in possession cases are prosecuted by the federal U.S. Attorney. Once state law catches up with federal law with respect to gun-toting criminals, the feds work with local prosecutors in deciding whether to prosecute the case state or federally.
The truly unique aspect of Exile is the funding program implemented by the private sector. It is the private sector that funds a PR campaign to educate the small group of criminals who carry guns that they will be facing mandatory sentences if caught with a gun.
College Park, Md.: Would Project Exile affect the gun ownership laws in Maryland?
Rep. Robert Ehrlich: Only to the extent that a felon caught with a gun would face a stiffer sentence. Legal gun owners have nothing to fear.
Baltimore, Md.: How much support is there for this measure in the Maryland legislature?
Rep. Robert Ehrlich: Not enough.
Maryland, last session, actually made our gun laws weaker by allowing a three judge panel to overturn mandatory sentences. I am supporting repeal of the statute during the current legislative session.
Washington, D.C.: Is there any proof, truly, that this program acts as a deterrent to criminals?
Rep. Robert Ehrlich: Yes, big time!!
What began as a terrific experiment in Richmond has now been adopted by states and jurisdictions across the country. We can supply specific numbers if you wish to contact our office (410/337-7222) (202/225-3061).
Bethesda, Md.: What are the statistics on who is committing the crime in Maryland? Is it young people? Career criminals?
Rep. Robert Ehrlich: Recidivism is the real problem witness the murder of Officer Prothero last week. Exile works because it targets the specific population (gun-toting felons) which causes a majority of the mayhem.
Free Media: According to your Web site, the U.S. Attorney's office has brought gun charges against 275 suspects in Baltimore in the past five years, as opposed to 576 gun charges in Richmond in three years with Project Exile. Why has the U.S. Attorney's office been reluctant to bring those charges?
Rep. Robert Ehrlich: Please call Lynne Battaglia, the U.S. Attorney for Maryland at 410/209-4800 or fax 410/962-3091.
Ms. Battaglia has instituted a weaker program of selective enforcement. I applaud her initial efforts, but wish to see a complete Exile type program in Maryland.
Baltimore, Md.: Can you comment on Joe Curran's plan to disarm all law-abiding citizens? Thanks.
Rep. Robert Ehrlich: Unfortunately, the political establishment in Maryland, led by the Attorney General, seeks to push more gun control during a time the newspapers are full of stories re how we are unable to enforce our existing gun laws. Unfortunately, while this may comport with the Curran-Glendening-Townsend mind set on gun control, it does not enhance our ability to implement programs that work like Exile.
Annapolis, Md.: Is the federal court system equipped to handle the additional caseload? If not, what is the estimated cost of increasing staff, etc.?
Rep. Robert Ehrlich: We have received numerous inquiries re funding. Exile only contemplates federal prosecution until such time as state criminal statutes "catch up" with their counterpart federal statutes. Accordingly, there is not a great deal of cost involved. Moreover, the communications effort is funded by the private sector no public money is involved.
To the extent any additional costs are associated with the adoption of Exile, there is $7.1 million available to assist U.S. Attorneys who wish to adopt an Exile type approach.
Annapolis, Md.: Congressman Ehrlich:
I am curious to hear your thoughts on gun and crime laws generally in Maryland. It seems we have every extreme here from laws requiring smart guns to actual gun raffles! Instead of rational debates, we have these kooky ideas.
Rep. Robert Ehrlich: Unfortunately, the gun debates in Annapolis and on Capitol Hill more often than not miss the point. The various interests groups seek to talk past one another in order to score political points. The wonderful aspect of Exile is that it is supported by Handgun Control, Inc. and the National Rifle Association!
Bowie, Md.: Is Project Exile an issue that cuts across party lines?
Rep. Robert Ehrlich: Absolutely. There is nothing partisan about Exile. Safer streets cut across party lines.
Arbutus, Md.: Would this effect juvenile offender with caught with guns?
Washington, D.C.: Does Project Exile deal differently with youthful offenders?
Rep. Robert Ehrlich: Very few juveniles are prosecuted in the federal courts. Juvenile law is usually a function of state statutes. To the extent that a juvenile in state court would be prosecuted as an adult, he could face the stiffer sentences that we are advocating in Annapolis.
College Park, Maryland: How will project exile affect minors caught with illegal handguns?
Rep. Robert Ehrlich: Please see last answer.
Alexandria, Va.: Can you explain the "exile" part? Does this literally mean sending offenders to prisons far away?
Rep. Robert Ehrlich: Exile refers to federal time. Ask any person who works in our criminal justice system and she will tell you that most offenders care about where they will do their time. Nobody wants federal time. It means you are shipped out of state (hence the term Exile) and imprisoned in a place where you have no friends or support group. This is a most unpleasant thought!
Arbutus, Md.: If previous gun control efforts have failed how will you ensure this one works?
Rep. Robert Ehrlich: My hometown!
Because it has worked in other subdivisions and states around the country, the focus on this narrow group of offender seems to bring very positive results.
College Park, Md.: I have found that many don't know about the three-judge panel you mentioned earlier. What can account for this?
Rep. Robert Ehrlich: The three judge panel proposal was kicked around in Annapolis for many years. I am sympathetic to what can be harsh results handed out under Maryland's three time loser statute. My only request is that the General Assembly carve out from the three judge panel statute a loophole closing provision which would eliminate this option in felon in possession cases.
Waldorf, Md.: Why does a "Free State" legislator want to federalize crimes that should be dealt with at the state level? All that's being done is ridding the state judicial system of have to spend money to try and incarcerate criminals. That seems to be the driving force behind all these efforts.
Rep. Robert Ehrlich: Good point.
Unfortunately, given the crisis situation in Baltimore City, and Maryland's more lenient gun laws, the federal "fix" is a temporary, but important remedy.
As in Richmond, once the necessary state statutes are passed, most of these cases can be handled in the state courts.
Project Exile could be used to impact the unacceptable violent crime rate in the Washington suburbs, as well.
Free Media: That was our last question today for Rep. Robert Ehrlich (R-Md.). Thanks to Rep. Ehrlich and to everyone who participated your questions were great, and you should check out Rep. Ehrlich's Web site for further information.
Join us tomorrow, when Joan Biskupic will talk about the Supreme Court and upcoming cases including police searches on "Holding Court" at 11 a.m. EST. Then, at 1 p.m. EST, Jennifer Palmieri, deputy assistant to the president, will talk about President Clinton's agenda for his final year in office. Also, at 2 p.m. EST, historian Michael Beschloss will talk about presidential legacies and how President Clinton's lasting impact will measure up in history.
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