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Md. Senate votes to repeal lifetime testimony ban on perjurers

The State House. (The Daily Record File photo)

The State House. (The Daily Record File photo)

ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland Senate voted Friday to repeal the state’s lifetime ban on convicted perjurers from testifying in court.

With the Senate’s 46-0 vote, attention shifts to the House of Delegates, where similar repeal legislation is pending before the House Judiciary Committee.

Proponents of repeal, including the Hogan administration, have said the ban on testifying has enabled violent criminals to prey with impunity on victims who lied under oath in the distant past. The “scarlet ‘P’” of perjury means that prosecutors cannot present and judges and juries can never hear the testimony of some victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, crimes in which the victim is often the only witness, Christopher B. Shank, executive director of Gov. Larry Hogan’s Office of Crime Control & Prevention, has said.

Under the repeal measure, criminal defense attorneys would be permitted to cite the witness’s conviction to impeach his or her credibility.

Aside from Maryland, Mississippi and Alabama are the only states that bar people convicted of perjury from testifying in court unless they themselves are on trial.

Prior to the Senate vote, Sen. Robert G. Cassilly told his colleagues that repealing the ban does not mean that “we [have] made a public policy statement that perjury is okay.”

Rather, permitting crime victims to testify despite a perjury conviction would prevent “an unequitable, unfair result,” said Cassilly, R-Harford. “I think it’s a very fair balancing of interests.”

Sen. Susan C. Lee, D-Montgomery, is the chief sponsor of Senate Bill 150. Del. William C. Smith Jr., D-Montgomery, is chief sponsor of the cross-filed measure, House Bill 237.