Assembly aims to cut criminals' book, movie profits

April 07, 1994|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Sun Staff Writer

Prompted by the Ronald Price case, the General Assembly moved closer yesterday to fixing Maryland's "Son of Sam" law and helping victims profit when criminals sign movie, book or television deals.

The Senate unanimously passed a bill that would prevent criminals from spending the profits of such deals before their victims could be compensated. The proposal goes to the House of Delegates, which is considering a similar measure.

The bills were introduced last month after the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Price, the former Anne Arundel County teacher who was convicted of sexually abusing three students. The court ruled that Price did not have to give the state a copy of his contract for a movie or television show about his life, despite a Maryland law aimed at preventing criminals from profiting from their crimes.

The law was named after New York serial killer David Berkowitz, who referred to himself as "Son of Sam" and prompted a public outcry when he made a lucrative book deal.

One of Price's lawyers said in June that his client had signed a

deal with a Hollywood producer for a made-for-TV movie, but he had refused to name the producer or say how much the deal was worth.

In its ruling, the state's highest court said the Son of Sam law may require someone who contracts with a defendant to give the agreement to the state, but it does not require the defendant to do so. In other words, the state has to figure out by itself who made the deal and seek a copy of the contract from that person.

Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. said the Senate bill solves the problems outlined in that ruling.

In fact, Mr. Curran said he believes the measure -- if enacted -- could be used by Price's victims against the ex-teacher, although he acknowledged that Price could challenge that interpretation.

Under the proposal passed yesterday, a criminal and his publisher or filmmaker would be required to reveal the contract to a state victims board 30 days after its execution.

With that information, the victim could ask a judge to put a freeze on the money, keeping the criminal from spending it before a court decides whether the victim is entitled to receive damages.

Victims currently can seek damages from the criminal who harmed them, Mr. Curran said, but they have no way to prevent the offender from spending the money before it can ever reach them.

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