U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. and his crime-fighting team have been rolling through the District with the boldness of Sherman’s Civil War march to the sea. Resistance has been negligible as corrupt officials have copped pleas rather than take their chances against Machen in a courtroom before a judge and jury. All of this is well and good. But there is one nagging concern: Are any of these negotiated plea agreements allowing criminals to get off lightly?
That critical question may also have been on the mind of U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer when Linwood Barnhill Jr., a recently retired 24-year D.C. police veteran, appeared before her last week to plead guilty to two counts of pandering of a minor for prostitution and one count of possession of child pornography. That plea deal, negotiated between Machen’s office and Barnhill’s lawyer, called for Barnhill to serve a seven-year sentence. Federal sentencing guidelines recommend nine to 12 years for those offenses.
Collyer was not bound by the plea agreement or the sentencing guidelines. She had the authority to reject the agreement. The judge stopped short of doing that, but she said she wanted to know more about Barnhill’s background and the condition of his victims before she would approve the negotiated sentence at a hearing scheduled for Sept. 4.
As well she should.