Ehrlich urges panel to give 2nd chance to criminal justice bill legislators killed

Governor wants penalties increased for intimidation

General Assembly

March 10, 2004|By Kimberly A.C. Wilson | Kimberly A.C. Wilson,SUN STAFF

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. wants a second shot at a scuttled bill that would have increased the penalties when witnesses or victims are intimidated.

But the committee chairman whom the governor has lobbied to re-evaluate the bill says no way.

"There's been talk of it," said the House Judiciary committee's Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr. "But we don't reconsider bills."

The bill, among a handful of criminal justice measures offered by the Ehrlich administration, was killed Thursday during a late-night voting session. It would have made intimidation a felony offense in Maryland, eligible for a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. Intimidation is now a misdemeanor offense that carries a maximum sentence of five years.

State's attorneys from Baltimore and Prince George's County - the state's most crime-ridden jurisdictions - had testified in support. Baltimore City State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy reminded committee members of the arson deaths in 2002 of the seven-member Dawson family in East Baltimore, a crime rooted in a street criminal's response to the family's repeated complaints to police about neighborhood drug dealing.

When the bill died, the governor directed his staff to look for ways to revive it.

"The killing of this Dawson family tragedy bill was a public-service disgrace," Jervis S. Finney, chief legal counsel for the governor, said yesterday.

During consideration of the governor's legislation, some lawmakers were troubled by a hearsay exception.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that raised the bar for the use of out-of-court statements, a decision Vallario said helped explain why the bill foundered in his committee.

"Clearly, if that bill had gone to the floor that way, it would have been deemed unconstitutional," Vallario said.

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