The Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office (SAO)—which is uncompromisingly committed to accountability, professionalism and transparency—continues to work towards a future where community confidence in the criminal justice system is restored; violent repeat offenders are held accountable; and communities feel safe.
During the 2017 Session of the Maryland General Assembly, State’s Attorney Mosby and the Policy & Legislative Affairs Unit advocated for state laws that would restore trust in the criminal justice system, remove violent offenders from our communities, and improve prosecutors’ ability to serve victims of crime. Expand the sections below to read about successful legislation supported by State’s Attorney Mosby during the 2017 legislative session.
Fighting for Sexual Assault Survivors
For the fourth consecutive year, State’s Attorney Mosby lobbied for critical bipartisan legislation that would allow prosecutors to introduce evidence of a defendant’s other relevant sex crimes and bring Maryland’s rules of evidence in line with the federal system and 37 other states. The Serial Predator Prevention Act (SB316/HB369) was part of Governor Hogan’s 2017 legislative “justice for victims” package.
Survivors including Shatia Lansdowne, Angela Wharton, and Kiara James bravely shared their powerful stories with the General Assembly. Experts from the Baltimore Child Abuse Center and experienced prosecutors from Baltimore County, Calvert County, Carroll County, Wicomico County and Baltimore City urged legislators to lift the current bar on introducing evidence of prior bad acts by serial rapists and child molesters. Several advocacy groups including MCASA, Phynyx Ministries, FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, and Maryland’s Chi Beta Zeta chapter of the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority lobbied for the bill. And over 3,500 people signed a petition urging legislators to pass this critical legislation
Similar legislation backed by State’s Attorney Mosby passed the entire Maryland Senate unanimously in 2016; however, neither bill was brought to a committee vote in 2017 despite the Governor’s backing. State’s Attorney Mosby continues to fight for this critical legislation and is working with stakeholders and advocates during the interim to increase its future chances of passage.
Interested in joining the fight or know a supportive organization? Contact Community Liaison Jessica Bowes at JBowes@stattorney.org
Here are the bills we supported in 2017 that were passed and signed into law:
- SB217/HB429: Removing physical resistance as a requirement to prove a sex crime
- Clarifies that evidence of physical resistance is not required to prove that a sex crime occurred.
- The State will no longer have to prove that a victim fought back against his or her rapist.
- SB349/HB255: Retaining rape kit evidence and notifying victims of rape kit disposal
- Makes common sense improvements to the way rape kits are stored and destroyed in Maryland.
- Requires all Maryland jurisdictions to retain rape kits for at least 20 years so victims who initially wish to remain anonymous may decide at a later date to initiate a law enforcement investigation.
- SB224/HB294: Prohibits domestic abusers from possessing a regulated firearm, rifle or shotgun
- Closes a dangerous loophole in Maryland law by ensuring that individuals who received probation before judgement (PBJ) for a domestically related second degree assault are prohibited from possessing a firearm.
- Under current law, an individual who receives a PBJ for second degree assault would not be prohibited from owning a gun despite using it to threaten their partner.
- SB207/HB166: Immediate forwarding of all charges against correctional officers to State’s Attorney for review
- Expands existing legislation which requires that any application for charges filed in District Court against certain individuals—educators, emergency services personnel and police officers— must be immediately forwarded to the State’s Attorney for review to include correctional officers.
- Review of these cases by State’s Attorneys prior to charging saves resources throughout the criminal justice system.
- SB790: Clarifying animal cruelty statutes to effectively prosecute and convict animal abusers
- Clarifies Maryland’s animal cruelty statutes, enabling prosecutors to more effectively prosecute and convict animal abusers before they have the opportunity to redirect their violence towards humans.
- Dedicated animal cruelty prosecutor Wes Corning testified in support and worked with animal rights advocates prior to session to draft this legislation.
The SAO’s legislative successes also include preventing bills from becoming law that would have a detrimental impact on public safety in Baltimore City. In 2017, the SAO helped prevent the following bills from becoming law:
- SB 973: This bill would have prevented the new Court of Appeals bail reform rule from taking effect
- This bill would have reversed a new court rule that prioritizes non-financial conditions over money bail. This would have resulted in unnecessary incarceration and risks to public safety.
- SB215/HB471: Eliminating automatic adult jurisdiction for juveniles
- This legislation would have eliminated automatic adult jurisdiction for juveniles charged with violent offenses such as homicide, rape, robbery, assault, and gun crimes. The SAO supports efforts to reform the juvenile justice system and seek rehabilitation over incarceration for youth offenders; however, we also support removal from the community if warranted in order to protect Baltimore City residents.
- Juvenile Division Chief Gavin Patashnick testified in opposition. The legislation died in committee.
Continuing the Legislative Fight in 2018
Unfortunately, not all legislation supported by the SAO passed during the 2017 Legislative Session. The following bills failed to pass this year, but we will continue to advocate for these improvements to state law:
- SB826/HB1396: Imposing mandatory minimum sentences for repeat gun offenders
- Possession of an illegal handgun is a misdemeanor in Maryland. State law provides for mandatory minimums that the court must impose on repeat offenders; however, these sentences are not true mandatory minimums and can be suspended.
- The goal of this legislation was to ensure that repeat gun offenders serve meaningful jail time. SAO Gun Violence Enforcement Division Chief Charles Blomquist joined the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) to testify in support. Unfortunately, neither bill was brought to a vote in committee.
- SB835/HB1362: Supporting all victims of crime regardless of immigration status
- State’s Attorney Mosby supported SB835/HB1362—the Maryland Law Enforcement and Governmental Trust Act. Trust and faith in the criminal justice system is critical to its success. Victims and witnesses of crime must feel empowered to participate in the system without retribution either by their attacker(s) or government authorities
- The Maryland Trust Act clarifies the parameters of state and local participation in federal civil immigration enforcement efforts to ensure that state agencies do not contribute to federal attempts to discriminate on the basis of faith, national origin, sexual orientation, and more. The act does not alter the criminal justice system from running its normal course. Unfortunately, this bill was withdrawn after amendments rendered it ineffective.
- State’s Attorney Mosby has instructed her prosecutors to strongly consider their prosecutorial discretion when handling minor, non-violent criminal cases involving immigrant victims, witness and defendants. Our prosecutors have an awesome amount of discretion and should always consider the effects of our decisions at every point of the trial process – from the handling of witnesses and victims to our sentencing recommendations. Read the full SAO press release regarding immigration policy here.
- SB409/HB1403: Authorizing the SAO to appoint criminal investigators with police powers
- These bills, sponsored by the Baltimore City Senate and House Delegations, would have given the State’s Attorney the authority to appoint investigators with the power to make arrests, carry a firearm and serve warrants. Three other counties in Maryland already have identical legislation.
- SAO Investigator Al Marcus and Director of Policy & Legislative Affairs Lisa Smith testified in support. Unfortunately, the bills were not brought to a vote in committee.
- SB545/HB1023: Enabling Baltimore City to appoint civilians to law enforcement review boards
- House Bill 1016, passed by the General Assembly in 2016, authorized jurisdictions to allow public participation on law enforcement hearing boards. However, the authority is still subject to local collective bargaining agreements. Therefore, a new collective bargaining agreement or legislation is necessary for Baltimore City to appoint civilians to the hearing boards and achieve the goals of last year's police reform legislation. Civilian participation is critical to restoring trust and faith in the criminal justice system and improving public safety.
- The SAO joined the Mayor’s Office and BPD in support of this legislation. Unfortunately, this legislation died in committee.
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Tell the Maryland General Assembly to pass critical legislation that will close loopholes that allow serial predators to hide prior instances of rape and child molestation from juries. Sign the petition here.