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Legal Review: Maryland Legislature Passes Landmark Criminal Justice Reforms

by Edward Tayter April 20, 2016 at 12:35 pm 0

Legal Review PriceBenowitz

Edward Tayter is a DUI and criminal defense attorney in Maryland, with an office in Howard County. Mr. Tayter is part of the criminal defense team at Price Benowitz, LLP, a law firm that also represents clients in probate, whistleblower, and immigration matters.

Thanks to a package of substantial criminal justice system reforms just passed by the Maryland legislature, certain types of offenders within the state will be able to work towards rehabilitation, rather than spend unduly long periods of time incarcerated.

Deemed “groundbreaking” by Baltimore County state Senator Bobby Zirkin, the initiatives are geared towards shrinking prison populations within the state and preserving resources better spent on treatment and recidivism prevention programming.

The aptly titled Justice Reinvestment Act serves a number of purposes, such as placing a greater number of low-level drug-related offenders into treatment programs, simplifying the process for earlier release of certain inmates, reducing potential incarceration times for those guilty of parole violations, facilitating greater opportunities for criminal record expungement and eliminating mandatory minimum sentencing for particular offense categories.

The road to passage of this legislation was not always a smooth one, with negotiations breaking down at least two times during the course of debate. Given the substantial nature of some of these changes and the effort to address a broad array of issues across the criminal justice landscape, it was necessary for legislators to spend a great deal of time working out the final details.

Though some have argued that the reforms tip too far in favor of convicted criminals, the legislation also toughens sentencing guidelines for those found guilty of second-degree murder or abuse that causes the death of a child. It establishes some anti-racketeering measures that ares likely to aid in the prosecution of gangs known to be involved in the distribution of illegal drugs.

Among the most notable elements of the legislation are:

  • Increased likelihood of treatment, rather than incarceration, for low-level drug crimes
  • Shifting of responsibility to state for ensuring prompt availability of treatment spaces to prevent long wait times in jail
  • Easier route to parole for those convicted of non-violent theft, drug, and bad check crimes once 25 percent of their sentence has been served
  • Elimination of mandatory minimum sentencing for drug dealing, false prescriptions, and manufacture of drugs
  • Capping of maximum sentences for dealing, manufacturing, or fabricating prescriptions at 20 years for initial and second offenses, 25 for third offenses, 40 for fourth offenses
  • Elimination of jail time for those guilty of driving on suspended license
  • Geriatric parole eligibility reduced from 65 years to 60 years, provided no less than 15 years of sentence already served
  • Minor violations of probation and parole will trigger minor sanctions before possibility of jail time, provided public safety is not deemed at risk

Though not without its critics, the change in thinking about the Maryland criminal justice system has secured wide support from both sides of the aisle, and it has been a priority of Governor Larry Hogan throughout his administration.

Hogan’s top criminal justice aide, Chris Shank, characterizes the legislation as a “sea change” in which government officials are increasingly attempting to be smarter on crime, rather than merely tougher on crime. The prior way of thinking, the argument goes, produced little more than exorbitant prison costs without a concomitant reduction in serious and violent offenses.

Borderstan contributor and law firm sponsor Price Benowitz LLP. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author — our contributor and law firm sponsor Price Benowitz LLP — and do not necessarily reflect the views of Borderstan.

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