Maryland Legislature approves crucial witness intimidation legislation to address critical problem in Baltimore City
Annapolis (March 20, 2020) -This legislative session, the Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office (SAO) made strides in securing the passage of legislation that will have a profound impact on Baltimore's criminal justice system. From witness intimidation to expungement, these laws will enable us to begin the work necessary to create a fairer and more equitable criminal justice system to improve public safety for all of Baltimore.
HB40/SB64 – Forfeiture by Wrongdoing: This legislation will make it easier to present out-of-court statements against those that intimidate witnesses by lowering the burden of proof needed for a prosecutor to secure convictions. This standard puts Maryland in line with the federal government and the majority of the states in our country. Witness intimidation frequently manifests in the form of violent, and sometimes lethal, crimes and often prevents law enforcement from conducting thorough investigations that lead to arrests. In cases in which a suspect is identified and arrested, witness intimidation continues to impact our ability to prosecute crime and to convict those responsible.
“Baltimore has a long, sordid history of witness intimidation and to counteract this infectious norm characterized by a “stop snitching” mentality, after championing this bill for the past three years, I am pleased that lawmakers have finally given us a tool to help legally combat it. We must safeguard victims and witnesses of crime who bravely choose the bold step to come forward, and this vital new legislation does just that,” said State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby.
HB83/SB699 – Partial Expungement, Possession of Marijuana Records: This legislation will allow those who have a marijuana possession record, to have an opportunity to gain meaningful employment and move past other roadblocks by having their records automatically removed from Maryland Judiciary Case Search. In 2019, the SAO stopped the prosecution of marijuana possession, a violation which has no impact on public safety and disproportionately impacts communities of black and brown people. This bill requires that records pertaining to marijuana possession be removed from Maryland Judiciary Case Search, an online tool often used by employers and landlords to determine an individual’s criminal background. Positive findings within the Maryland Judiciary Case Search often lead to denial of employment, housing and other collateral consequences.
HB1336/SB589 – Partial Expungement, Maryland Judiciary Case Search, and Expungement of Misdemeanor Conviction: This legislation begins to dismantle the ‘unit rule’ and requires that Maryland Judiciary Case Search no longer provide information on an individual’s record related to any cases that were acquitted, dismissed (except if there were requirements for drug or alcohol treatment) and allows for the expungement of additional misdemeanor charges. Additionally, a workgroup will be convened to study and develop a plan and legislative recommendations for enabling the expungement of criminal charges that are currently not eligible for expungement because of the Unit Rule.
“Collateral consequences are legal, social, and economic debilities that are imposed as a result of a criminal conviction, regardless of whether a convicted individual serves any time incarcerated. Collateral consequences are known to adversely affect adoptions, housing, healthcare access, welfare, immigration, employment, professional licensure, property rights, mobility, education, voting rights and other opportunities—the collective effect of which marginalizes the individual, extinguishes hope and a positive pathway forward, and thereby increases recidivism and undermines meaningful reentry of the convicted individual for a lifetime,” said State's Attorney Mosby. “Neither the individual, nor the community, benefitted as a result of these collateral consequences of laws discriminatorily enforced against Black and Brown communities. We are all less safe if people can’t meet their basic needs and this law begins to “right the wrongs of the past” by shielding convictions that have caused social, economic, and political debilities in the lives of so many.”
HB637/SB534 – Jailhouse Informants Testimony: This bill toughens restrictions and requires the State to take specific precautions regarding testimony from jailhouse informants including reporting the information to the Governor’s Office of Crime Prevention, Youth and Victim Services and disclosing it to the defendant. Jailhouse informants are those incarcerated individuals who offer testimony against a defendant, and may receive leniency or other benefits, which can create a strong incentive for false reporting. In Maryland alone, four innocent people have been proven to have been wrongfully convicted as a result of jailhouse informant’s false testimony.
"Our mission as prosecutors is to seek “justice over convictions” and to not only advocate for the victims of those that we believe have committed a crime, but to ensure that we exonerate those that are wrongfully convicted and incarcerated. This legislation ensures another safeguard against wrongful convictions and we’re grateful that this measure passed,” said State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby.
"This package of bills will reform the criminal justice system in a way that will promote public safety and fairness," said State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby. "I'm not only encouraged by what we were able to get passed in Annapolis this year, but I’m inspired to continue the fight for justice in future legislative sessions."