Delegate Wants Law To Keep Tabs On Judge's Rulings

Says Decisions Ofelected Officials Should Be 'Open Book'

September 01, 1991|By Staff report

HAMSTEAD — HAMPSTEAD -- Delegate Richard C. Matthews, R-Carroll, said he will re-introduce legislation to keep a public record of sentences imposed by each Appeals, Circuit and District Court judge for various seriousand violent crimes. "Especially with respect to Circuit Court judges, who run in contested elections, the people have a right to know what sentences are imposed by which judges," Matthews said.

His proposal requires the Administrative Office of the Courts to compile and maintain a register, available to the public, which will contain a record of sentences imposed for specific crimes by the judges of the various courts.

Patterned after the Rhode Island Judicial Sentencing and Disclosure Act, the Matthews bill provides that the register be compiled in chronological order and include the name of the case, charges against the defendant, charges of which the defendant was convicted, sentenceimposed by the judge and the date.

Under the name of each judge of the Court of Appeals, a record of his vote on death penalty cases will be recorded.

Under the name of each judge of the Circuit Court, the sentence imposed for crimes of violence in non-jury trials willbe recorded.

Under the name of each judge of the District Court, the sentence imposed for drunken driving offenses will be recorded.

The register would be available for public inspection at the Administrative Office of the Courts during regular office hours.

"In general, the public perception is that the courts are soft on crime," Matthews said. "While the legislature might enact stiffer sentences, intoo many instances, the courts refrain from imposing them.

"According to figures compiled by the State Department of Legislative Reference during 1985-1989, that perception is not too far off the mark."

He said those statistics show that probation was given in the following percentages of cases:

* 36 percent of murder cases.

* 66 percent of rape cases.

* 57 percent of kidnapping cases.

* 40 percent of armed robbery cases.

* 88 percent of assault cases.

*72 percent of burglary cases.

"It's high time the shroud of secrecy was stripped from judicial behavior with respect to the impositionof sentences," Matthews said.

"Once a judge is seated, his sentencing record is not a matter of public knowledge, simply because thereis no record kept.

"People have no idea of the sentencing record of the man or woman they elect or re-elect to sit on the bench."

The delegate stressed that the behavior of all other elected officialsin office "is an open book."

"Their voting records, business dealings and net worth are a matter of public record," he said. "There isno good or logical reason for continuing to keep the public in the dark with respect to the sentencing records of judges on Maryland's courts."

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