Simpson trial 'bias' kills TV-in-court bill

IN THE LEGISLATURE

March 16, 1995|By From Sun staff reports

The sponsor of a bill that would have permitted criminal trials in Maryland to be televised said yesterday he has withdrawn the proposal because it was hurt by the televised murder trial of former football star O. J. Simpson.

"There was an unfair bias against the bill because of misconceptions about how TV broadcast the O. J. Simpson trial," said Del. Gilbert J. Genn, a Montgomery County Democrat.

Mr. Genn said the proposal also was hurt by opposition from prosecutors, the public defender's office and victims' rights groups. Those opponents argued that televising criminal trials could make it harder to persuade witnesses to come forward or could force victims of crime to appear on television against their wishes.

TC Mr. Genn said he thought the proposal, House Bill 609, contained sufficient provisions to protect witnesses from being televised against their will.

He acknowledged, however, that there were not enough votes on the House Judiciary Committee to send the bill to the full House. He said he has requested that the issue be studied by the committee this summer.

Bill would tighten drunken-driving law

A diverse coalition ranging from Maryland's lieutenant governor to high school students urged a House committee yesterday to make the blood-alcohol level of 0.10 percent absolute proof of driving while intoxicated.

Under House Bill 1024, the results of a Breathalyzer test would be evidence "per se" that a person had driven while drunk. Attorneys still could argue that the tests were administered improperly, but could not use the results of field sobriety tests to defend their clients.

Police officers told committee members that the bill would make it much harder for functional alcoholics, some of whom have learned how to beat field sobriety tests, to win acquittal. Under the bill, drunken drivers will "learn they can't beat the system as easily as they do today," said Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who compared the reliance on Breathalyzer tests to that of radar guns in speeding cases.

Maryland is one of only four states that does not have a drunken driving per se law, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Only one group, the Maryland Criminal Defense Attorneys Association, spoke against the measure. The group's legislative chairman, M. Albert Figinski, questioned the heavy reliance on a device that he claimed gave inaccurately high readings 14 percent of the time. "What the bill does is create a conviction by machine," he said.

The per se bill is a political perennial in Annapolis and has routinely died in the House Judiciary Committee. Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr. said this year could be different.

"It's got a shot," said Mr. Vallario, who noted that the makeup of the committee has changed substantially since last year. He said he expected a committee vote on the bill today or tomorrow.

Senate votes to rein in lame duck governors

The Senate approved a constitutional amendment yesterday that would limit a lame duck governor from granting pardons and reprieves.

The proposal, which was approved 42-4, would prohibit a governor from granting a pardon or reprieve in the last three months of a second term in office or after he or she had failed to win renomination or re-election.

The bill also would prohibit a governor from taking action during a second term if the request for a reprieve or pardon was made during the first term.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Prince George's County Democrat, submitted the bill in reaction to some controversial pardons issued by former Gov. William Donald Schaefer late in his second term. Gov. Parris N. Glendening has indicated he supports the legislation.

Four Democrats -- including Barbara A. Hoffman of Baltimore and Thomas L. Bromwell of Baltimore County -- voted against the bill, which moves to the House.

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