The November elections changed the makeup of the Maryland General Assembly, but much of the criminal justice reform legislation that will be discussed in the next session will be all too familiar, especially in the areas of juvenile law, drug and immigration law.
Lawmakers will again seek to prevent children under 16 from being automatically charged and tried as adults in all cases. Lawmakers are also expected to reconsider efforts to prevent juveniles from being charged with felony murder.
Senator William C. Smith Jr., the Montgomery Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judicial Process Committee, said juvenile justice is meant to be “restorative, not punitive.” “Initiating young people into the youth system has better results in the short and long term.”
The juvenile recharge procedure would allow children under 16 to be automatically charged as adults only for first and second degree murder or rape, first and second degree attempted murder or rape, first and second degree murder or auto theft.
Another bill would ban homicide charges against juveniles, based on the belief that naïve youths often fall into situations they have no knowledge, understanding or ability to stop, such as being killed by an acquaintance while they were involved in harm.
These bills have failed in past years amid fierce debate in legislative committees and on the floor of the Senate and House of Delegates, pitting lawmakers who believe even the most intransigent young men of reform are not hopelessly lost against those who think the punishment should be commensurate with the crime. .
“Any reasonable person would want to give juveniles some benefit of the doubt of being juvenile,” said Minority Senator Justin Reddy, R-Carol. “But we’ve gone to the other extreme in this state, and until we can get more consistent enforcement and see more progress on making the public safe, I don’t think making more changes is a good idea with respect to the two dangerous juveniles.” a crime.”
On the drug front, the General Assembly will again consider a bill to legalize the possession and distribution of heroin paraphernalia, including needles and syringes. The measure, intended to protect heroin addicts from unhealthy and potentially deadly needles, was successfully vetoed in 2021 by Governor Larry Hogan, who said the bill would encourage drug use.
Under current law, the penalty for possession of illegal drug paraphernalia for the first time is a fine of up to $500. Each subsequent offense carries a penalty of up to two years in prison and a $2,000 fine.
Dale David Moon, the lead sponsor of the measure, cited the safety issue and said he will reintroduce the bill in this session, during which Governor-elect Wes Moore, a fellow Democrat, will replace Hogan, a Republican.
“To me, it doesn’t make sense to bring this bill back,” said Moon, the Montgomery Democrat and deputy chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. “We have to get back to putting public health ahead of punishment here.”
But Reddy, who opposed the bill in 2021 as protecting those with “vast stockpiles of heroin paraphernalia,” said his views have not changed as Maryland continues to grapple with a stubborn heroin epidemic.
“You’d have to be high to think this would be a good idea to legalize heroin paraphernalia,” he said.
On immigration, Moon said he would reintroduce a procedure to enable convicts to challenge their convictions for up to three years after they find out or should have known that their guilty pleas would have collateral consequences, such as deportation.
“It’s not a door we want to close,” Moon said of the challenge opportunity.
Hogan successfully vetoed the measure in 2018, saying the current law standard was to start the clock when the convict knew or should have known that the guilty plea was unwise. By contrast, the bill would have enabled a convict to “do nothing until they face collateral consequences,” Hogan said at the time.
“I hope that with the new governor, we will have a new look,” Moon said.
Smith, the senator, said he would reintroduce legislation authorizing Maryland’s attorney general to prosecute local police officers who he or she alleges are criminally at fault for officer homicides.
Under current law, the prosecutor investigates these killings, but then turns the case over to the local prosecutor, who ultimately decides whether to prosecute the officer.
Several state attorneys opposed Smith’s proposal, as they were unwilling to give up their jurisdiction and discretion regarding a potentially fatal crime in their jurisdiction.
But Smith said the public is rightly aware of a conflict of interest when local prosecutors have discretion over whether to prosecute an officer from the same police force they rely on to conduct other criminal investigations and testify at trial.
If enacted, Smith said the legislation would “complement efforts to ensure there is a level of independence in the investigation and prosecution” of police officers.
The office said last week that a unit in the Public Prosecutor’s Office had investigated 23 police-related deaths in its first year, and none of the investigations had yet resulted in charges against the officers.
The unit completed 13 case reports in the first year; At that time, local prosecutors had made decisions not to prosecute in 11 cases.
Smith and Moon will again sponsor legislation to prevent people from being jailed for failing to pay a fine or sentence of less than $5,000.
Moon said canceling these “corporal engagements” when there is little debt left is part of “our classic efforts to eliminate all debtors’ prison cases that appear in the law.”