Annapolis, MD (April 10, 2019) – The Maryland State House passed House Bill 874 bipartisan legislation that will soon allow judges to grant a prosecutor’s request to vacate a conviction “in the interest of justice and fairness,” especially in cases involving actual innocence, cases tainted by police misconduct, or cases involving behaviors like marijuana possession that would not be prosecuted in the jurisdiction today.
This legislation was proposed after recent incidents in the Baltimore criminal justice system exposed a gap in the law where there is no clear procedural right for a prosecutor to formally ask a judge to revisit a conviction and secure justice for those unfairly or wrongly convicted. Baltimore prosecutors faced tremendous challenges in trying to vacate convictions that were tainted due to the involvement of the former Baltimore Police Department Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF) officers. While the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office has filed approximately 153 joint motions with the Office of the Public Defender to vacate convictions believed to be hopelessly tainted due to the unethical conduct of the GTTF, several of those motions have been denied on the grounds that there is no legal basis for a prosecutor to request that the judge vacate the conviction. With the passage of HB 874, prosecutors have a legal remedy to ask a judge to vacate those convictions.
The proposed legislation was sponsored by Delegate Erek Barron (D-24), a former state and federal prosecutor and Senator Christ West (R-42). The legislative victory was a bipartisan effort that has brought Maryland in line with other states that have already enacted similar legislation including California, Arizona, Massachusetts, and New York. In Massachusetts, for example, in a scenario reminiscent of the Baltimore GTTF scandal, prosecutors vacated almost 20,000 cases following the fraudulent and criminal acts of a chemist in a state lab who tainted evidence used to secure drug-related convictions.
“We are beyond elated that House Bill 874, vacatur legislation, has passed and prosecutors all over the state will soon have the procedural right to revisit convictions for those that were unfairly or wrongly convicted,” said State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby. “I thank Delegate Erek Barron and Senator Chris West for their leadership and wisdom in advocating for this much-needed legislation, now ensuring that every prosecutor in this state can affirmatively pursue our ethical and legal obligation to seek “justice over convictions.”