EXCLUSIVE | In Delaware, 70% of gun charges were dropped in 2018

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Gun Pointed at Viewer - PhoGun Pointed at Viewer - Photo: © Copyright Rommel Canlas/Shutterstockto: © Copyright Rommel Canlas/Shutterstock
Gun Pointed at Viewer – Photo: © Copyright Rommel Canlas/Shutterstock

Of the overall number of gun charges processed in Delaware, approximately 70 percent were dropped in 2018, according to new data obtained exclusively by WGMD News.

A total of 3,746 firearm-related offenses were reported in 2018, according to data from State of Delaware’s Statistical Analysis Center. Of that number, 2,603 of those charges were either dropped or dismissed.

Selected offenses are Title 11 felonies explicitly referencing firearms or similar offenses where uncertainties often arise as to specificity of the type of weapon or prohibited object.

A high number of complex firearm cases were reported last year following large scale prosecutions of violent gang-related offenses over the course of the 2016-2018 arrest periods.

Many cases remain unresolved and data issues add to the number of charges that the Center can classify only as having pending or unknown dispositions.

1,295 charges were because a person was prohibited by law from possessing a firearm or ammunition. Of that number, 67 percent were dropped or dismissed.

WGMD News reached out to the Attorney General’s Office to request information and clarification on the amount of firearm-related charges that are dropped in Delaware.

“The vast majority of defendants – consistently more than 87 percent in recent years – indicted for a crime involving a firearm plead guilty to, or are convicted of, at least one of the charges,” Mat Marshall with the Attorney General’s Office stated. “A majority of these defendants – consistently about 60 percent – plead guilty to, or are convicted of, at least one of the firearms charges they faced.”

Marshall went on to say that “someone who claims that ‘most firearms charges get dropped’ is referring to the outcome of each individual charge brought against an offender rather than the overall outcome of a case which likely involves multiple charges.”

As enacted by the General Assembly, state law mandates that when someone uses a firearm to commit a felony, they recieve two charges: one for the felony itself, armed robbery or assault, for example – and the second for using the firearm during the felony, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.  

These are two separate crimes for which the legislature intended separate punishment to account for the involvement of a firearm, according to the Delaware Department of Justice (DOJ).

The cases are often resolved by a defendant’s plea to one of the two felonies; the charges dismissed contemporaneously with the plea are the charges that are “dropped.”  Yet each of the defendants in cases resolved that way have pled guilty to a felony that by definition involves using a gun, which can carry substantial jail time.

In Delaware (and this is different than in some states), Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Felony (PFDCF) may be charged along with each substantive crime in an indictment. 

If a defendant who used a gun is indicted for Murder First and Robbery First, there are often two PFDCF charges, according to the DOJ. If the case is resolved with a plea to Murder First Degree, it will show up in statistics that are sometimes cited as two or more PFDCFs being “dropped,” even though the defendant will serve life in prison.

Consistently across recent years, a vast majority of defendants who are prosecuted for using a gun in a crime are convicted of or plead guilty to a crime, and any claim suggesting otherwise is based on misunderstanding the statistics differentiating cases and charges, the DOJ stated.

The overall amount of charges last year that were dropped decreased slightly compared to the previous year. In 2017, 75 percent were either dropped or dismissed.