Cities, feds team up to jail felons with guns
July 13, 1999
ATLANTA (CNN) -- To crack down on violent gun crime, the city of Atlanta has taken aggressive action to put repeat offenders caught with weapons behind bars. But critics say the program is a drain on federal investigative resources.
Through the "Face Five" program, Atlanta is bypassing state courts in favor of federal ones, which usually have harsher sentences, to prosecute felons possessing handguns, something forbidden by law.
"If you are a convicted felon, you're stopped at a routine traffic stop and you've got a gun, we're going to refer that case to the U.S. attorney," says Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell. "We hope you do five years. It's that simple."
One example is Michael Withers. Atlanta police say the three- time felon tried to pawn a handgun. Now, in federal court, he faces prison with a mandatory punishment of at least five years without parole if convicted.
Atlanta officials and the U.S. attorney's office are focusing on armed repeat offenders because they committed 70 percent of the murders and aggravated assaults in Atlanta last year.
But legal critics say using federal authorities to prosecute these crimes is a waste.
"What happens is you have agents who would be much better used on sophisticated crime or organized crime, doing street level crime," says defense attorney Jerry Froelich.
U.S. Attorney Richard Deane in Atlanta disagrees: "The point is the reduction of gun violence. That can be accomplished in two ways, by us prosecuting and incarcerating the repeat violent offenders, or that same person choosing not to carry the firearm."
Other cities have taken similar measures, including Richmond, Virginia. Authorities there attribute a 33 percent drop in their homicide rate over the past two years in part to the program.
President Bill Clinton and the National Rifle Association both have praised Richmond's "Project Exile."
NRA executive director Wayne LaPierre says his group has worked with local citizens, the police and the business community in Richmond to support the program.
"Every time you catch a criminal with a gun, a felon with a gun, a violent juvenile with a gun, one hundred percent of the time you prosecute the case. You don't put him out on bail," he told CNN on Tuesday.
Correspondent Brian Cabell contributed to this report.
Atlanta, U.S. attorneys join forces to get tough on criminals with guns
The City of Atlanta - Mayor's Page
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