Maryland needs state commission to review criminal...

Letters to the Editor

May 05, 1999

Maryland needs state commission to review criminal sentences

I read with interest Joan Jacobson's April 23 article on the Maryland Commission on Criminal Sentencing Policy ("Bill called threat to law"). In 1995, I sponsored legislation that created this commission; I served more than 2 1/2 years on the 19-member study group that made its final recommendations to the General Assembly in December.

As your article noted, the Maryland State's Attorneys Association and the Maryland Judicial Conference for different reasons have recommended that the governor veto Senate Bill 388-House Bill 602, Criminal Procedure: Commission on Criminal Sentencing Policy.

Some prosecutors argue that allowing a three-judge panel to reverse mandatory sentences will create havoc in the courts. In reality, the commission has overturned few criminal sentences.

In fiscal year 1997, 64,087 criminal cases were closed in Maryland circuit courts. Only 190 cases were appealed, and the panel reviewed 140 applications. The original sentence was decreased in only four cases.

The Maryland Judicial Conference continues to oppose a fairly simple provision in the legislation that requires judges to announce the minimum time a criminal will serve in prison. But since violent offenders must serve a minimum of 50 percent of their sentence before being considered for parole, it should not be difficult to make this declaration.

A permanent state sentencing commission could provide perspective on the many sentencing bills legislators offer and facilitate a state-county corrections options partnership, which was one of the study group's most important recommendations.

It would allow the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, the legislature, local governments and their correctional facilities to get cost analysis of any proposed policy change.

Criminal sanctions must be subject to input from all who have a stake in the system. This is why I urge the governor to sign into law this legislation.

Christopher J. McCabe, Clarksville

The writer represents the 14th Legislative District in the Maryland Senate.

Primaries should be open to votes from everyone

I find myself in partial agreement with Ellen Sauerbrey's May 2 letter, "A GOP proposal to reach out to independent voters," which advocated opening Republican primaries to independent voters.

I have been registered with one of the major parties my entire voting life. I had to register with one to exercise my franchise in primaries. But this is like requiring a horse in a mostly barren pasture to graze only on specified clumps of grass.

I believe that I am like many voters who cast their ballots for the candidates they perceive to be best qualified, irrespective of the party affiliation of those candidates.

We'd like to have the chance vote for those who we believe are best qualified among the entire spectrum of candidates. The electorate is not so ignorant that it needs to be "guided" forcibly in its primary election choices.

Where does it say in the U. S. Constitution that I must choose a party affiliation to vote in a primary election?

Perhaps allowing more bipartisan voting would help end the partisan squabbling that has been paralyzing our national government for so many years.

Stephen Clarkson, Ellicott City

Race dogs, not horses in Western Maryland

The Maryland legislature's endorsement of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's proposal to grant another racetrack license, for a track to be built near Cumberland, was well-intentioned but failed to consider the competition offered by West Virginia's Charles Town racetrack.

That West Virginia track has been rejuvenated by adding slot machines to its clubhouse and plans a major expansion that will include a luxury hotel for those who want to extend their stay.

Many Marylanders frequent this track and help fund the large purses it offers. These purses are luring good horses from Maryland tracks and hurting Maryland racing.

I suggest that the proposed Western Maryland track, and the underused utilized Timonium track, offer dog racing. This would set them apart from Charles Town and other facilities. There is currently no dog racing in Maryland or the surrounding states -- one has to go to New England or Florida to see it.

Dion F. Guthrie, Cockeysville

Music and baseball promote friendship with the Cubans

It's ironic that as a group of Baltimore-area residents protested the Cuban baseball team's visit to Baltimore, the Philadephia Boy's Choir and Mens Chorale were in Cuba, at the Havana government's invitation, performing to the delight of rock concert-sized crowds.

Aware of Cuba's poverty and great love of baseball, the boys brought with them 130 baseball gloves collected from their friends, and more than 100 autographed baseballs from the Phillies.

These gifts, and the choir's performance, might help heal more wounds than the choir boys would imagine.

Hilary H. Hayes, Havertown, Pa.

Kosovars need aid, not abortion pill

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