In 2015, State’s Attorney Mosby created the Policy & Legislative Affairs Unit within the BCSAO because she understood that in order to have an effect on the laws in which we implement, prosecutors must do more than just advocate in the courtroom. Prosecutors must also advocate for fair and just laws, which requires us to have a voice in Annapolis. For seven years, State’s Attorney Mosby and her staff have worked to change state laws with the goal of restoring trust in the criminal justice system, holding violent offenders accountable, and better serving victims of crime.
2022 Legislative Victories
During the 2022 Legislative Session, the Maryland Legislature passed numerous bills supported by the SAO that will enhance public safety and begin to repair the damaging effects of over-policing, including:
- HB425/SB387 - Public Safety - Untraceable Firearms (Ghost Guns) - Prohibits a person from purchasing, receiving, selling, offering to sell, or transferring an “unfinished frame or receiver” unless it is required by federal law to be, and has been, imprinted with a serial number. Establishes penalties for violations of the bill’s provisions relating to untraceable firearms, and expands the definition of a firearm to include an unfinished frame or receiver.
(Speaker Adrienne Jones and Delegate Lopez).
- SB53 - Juvenile Law - Child Interrogation Protection Act - Protects against false confessions and statements that may lead to a wrongful conviction by requiring that children consult with attorneys and have their parents/guardians contacted prior to a police interrogation. Specifies that if a law enforcement officer takes a child into custody, the officer must immediately notify, or cause to be notified, the child’s parents, guardian, or custodian in a manner reasonably calculated to give actual notice of the action. The notice must include the child’s location, provide the reason for the child being taken into custody, and instruct the parent, guardian, or custodian on how to make immediate in-person contact with the child. (Senators Carter, Hettleman, Lee, Smith, Sydnor, Waldstreicher, and Watson)
- HB001- Constitutional Amendment - Cannabis - Adult Use and Possession - Proposed constitutional amendment, if approved by the voters at the next general election to be held in November 2022, authorizes an individual at least age 21 to use and possess cannabis in the State beginning July 1, 2023, subject to the requirement that the General Assembly pass legislation regarding the use, distribution, possession, regulation, and taxation of cannabis. (Delegate Clippinger)
These legislative victories are the result of seven years of advocacy by the SAO and local partners, including the publishing of a policy paper entitled, "Reforming A Broken System: Rethinking The Role Of Marijuana Prosecutions In Baltimore City," which resulted in the decision to no longer prosecute marijuana possession. The bills address a variety of other necessary public safety and police reform measures including: tackling the issue of ghost guns on our streets, which increased by 400% from 2020 to 2021 according to the Baltimore Police Department, and protecting children during police interrogations to prevent false confessions. In November of 2019, the SAO's Conviction Integrity Unit secured the exonerations of Alfred Chestnut, Ransom Watkins, and Andrew Stewart who were arrested on Thanksgiving Day in 1983 and wrongfully convicted for the murder of a 14-year-old Baltimore teenager. Detectives targeted the three men, all 16-year-old Black boys at the time, using coaching and coercion of other teenage witnesses to make their case. They each spent 36 years in prison.
Prior Legislative Victories
State Legislature Passes Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021
HB670 - Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021 - Police Discipline and Law Enforcement Programs and Procedures (Speaker Adrienne Jones - Workgroup to Address Police Reform and Accountability in Maryland).
SB71 - Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021 - Body-Worn Cameras, Employee Programs, and Use of Force (Senators Sydnor, Smith, Waldstreicher, Jackson, Carter, Hough, Lee, West, and Hettleman)
SB600 - Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021 - Surplus Military Equipment and Investigation of Deaths Caused by Police Officers (Sen. William C. Smith, Jr., Montgomery County).
HB178 - Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021 - Search Warrants and Inspection of Records Relating to Police Misconduct - "Anton's Law" (Senator Jill P. Carter, Baltimore City).
Forfeiture by Wrongdoing - HB40/SB64: 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.
Partial Expungement, Possession of Marijuana Records - HB83/SB699: 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.
Partial Expungement, Maryland Judiciary Case Search, and Expungement of Misdemeanor Conviction - HB1336/SB589: 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.
Jailhouse Informants Testimony - HB637/SB534: 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.
Post-Conviction Review - State’s Motion to Vacate (HB0874/SB0676) – MAJOR VICTORY!
- This legislation 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.
Child Sex Trafficking Screening and Services Act of 2019 (HB0827/SB0688)
- Requires a law enforcement officer and social services agency who suspects a child that has been detained is a victim of sex trafficking to notify a regional navigator.
Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kits – Analysis (HB1096/SB0767)
- Requires that a sexual assault evidence collection kit be submitted to a forensic laboratory for analysis and inform a victim who wishes to remain anonymous and not file a criminal complaint that they may initiate a criminal complaint at a future time.
Grace’s Law 2.0 – Electronic Harassment and Bullying (SB0103/HB0181)
- Prohibits a person from maliciously engaging in electronic communications, which can intimidate, harass or cause serious physical or emotional distress to a minor.
ALL BILLS BECOME LAW AS OF OCTOBER 1, 2019
Accountability for Those Who Threaten Witnesses
The BCSAO supported increased penalties for victim, witness or juror intimidation in SB1137, sponsored by Senators Joan Carter Conway and Bobby Zirkin (SB122).
Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion©
The BCSAO supported HB432, sponsored by Delegate Brooke Lierman, which provided for four years of mandated state funding to sustain the Baltimore City Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion© (LEAD) program.
The BCSAO joined Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America in support of SB1036/HB1646, sponsored by Senator Will Smith and Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary, which requires surrender of firearms by convicted domestic abusers.
“Ban the Box” on College Applications
The BCSAO supported a successful veto override and passage of 2017 legislation expanding access to higher education for individuals with prior criminal convictions.
Witness Relocation Funding
HB432, sponsored by Delegate Brooke Lierman, mandated four years of State funding for emergency housing when witnesses are threatened. The funding totals $360,000 per year from FY 2020-2023.
Body Attachments for Adult Witnesses in Juvenile Cases
HB1023, sponsored by Delegate Luke Clippinger, allowed the juvenile court to compel adult witnesses.
Penalty for Violating Pretrial Stay Away Orders
The BCSAO joined House of Ruth and other stakeholders, including SB170/HB388 sponsors Senator Susan Lee and Delegate Aruna Miller, in advocating for penalties if a defendant violates a pre-trial stay away order in cases involving sexual assault, domestic violence, and all other violent crimes.
The Repeat Sexual Predator Prevention Act of 2018 (SB270/HB301)
For five years, BCSAO lobbied for the Repeat Sexual Predator Prevention Act (RSPPA) to bring Maryland’s rules of evidence in line with the federal system and the majority of other states. The passage of this critical bipartisan legislation in 2018 means that prosecutors can now introduce evidence of a defendant’s other relevant sex crimes in sexual assault cases.
Thirty separate organizations and agencies supported HB301/SB270, sponsored by Senator Jim Brochin and Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary. Nearly 5,000 individuals signed a petition urging legislators to pass this critical legislation. The new law also had the support of the Governor, Women Legislators of Maryland, Legislative Latino Caucus, Legislative Black Caucus, and Maryland Legislative Agenda for Women.
Removing Physical Resistance as a Requirement to Prove a Sex Crime
Due to SB217/HB429, the State no longer must prove that a victim fought back against his or her rapist.
Retaining Rape Kit Evidence
SB349/HB255 required law enforcement to retain rape kits for at least 20 years.
Enhanced Penalties for Repeat Drunk Drivers Who Injure or Kill
SB160/HB157, sponsored by Delegate Valentino-Smith and Senator Cassilly, increased the maximum penalties for repeat offenders who kill or seriously injure someone while driving under the influence or impaired by alcohol or drugs.
Increased Maximum Penalty for Second-Degree Murder
The Final Justice Reinvestment Act Bill (SB1005) included a provision to increase the maximum penalty for second degree murder from 30 to 40 years.
Maryland Second Chance Act
SB526/HB244 enabled individuals to petition a court to shield certain non-violent misdemeanor convictions from public access, enabling them to obtain jobs without their criminal record blocking their path.
Creation of Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council
The BCSAO teamed with public safety agencies statewide to support SB602/HB388. The Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council is developing a statewide policy framework to reduce the state’s incarcerated population and reduce spending on corrections.
The Citizens' Legislative Toolkit
The Policy & Legislative Affairs Unit of BCSAO created a comprehensive Legislative Toolkit to help community members stay visible and engaged during the legislative session. Topics include an overview of the Maryland General Assembly, how bills become law, how to be an advocate, and include worksheets intended to help guide communication with legislators. Please download the Legislative Toolkit and share it with your neighbors, friends and family. We will see you in Annapolis!