With less than three weeks left in the General Assembly session, a number of bills affecting the courts and the legal system are still moving through the legislature with varying degrees of support from attorneys.
One bill, House Bill 81, which sought to permit media organizations to film criminal sentencing proceedings, died in the House Judiciary Committee relatively early in the session. Public defenders, prosecutors, judges and victims’ rights advocates all expressed concerns about the bill.
Two cross-filed bills, House Bill 74 and Senate Bill 117, which would add judges to district and circuit courts throughout the state, passed their respective chambers without opposition. The bills would add 13 judges, 11 to circuit courts and two to district courts, to alleviate heavy caseloads. The Maryland Judiciary has not seen any new judgeships in the last two sessions despite requesting more positions.
House Bill 274, and a similar bill in the Senate that are likely to be combined, would eliminate a provision in divorce law which prohibits a judge from granting a divorce on the uncorroborated testimony of the parties. Both bills repeal the provision, while Senate Bill 359 also permits a couple to file a joint complaint to begin mutual consent divorce proceedings and requires the Court of Appeals to establish a joint complaint form. Both bills passed their respective chambers and are in committees.
House Bill 155, cross-filed with Senate Bill 278, seek to strengthen Maryland’s stalking and harassment law by prohibiting a person from engaging in a malicious course of conduct knowingly causing serious emotional distress in addition to fear of physical harm. The original bills also removed the requirement that the conduct be malicious but it was added back in through committee amendments. Both bills passed their respective chambers and are awaiting further hearings.
House Bill 220 and its Senate cross-file permit individuals to request a partial expungement of a criminal record by asking for charges which did not result in convictions to be removed. Amendments to the House version, which passed, limited the expungement to Maryland Judiciary Case Search. Advocates plan to seek changes on Senate Bill 328 while it remains in committee.
House Bill 615 prohibits courts from receiving evidence obtained in violation of the state or federal constitutions and eliminates a number of exceptions to that rule. The bill was heavily opposed by prosecutors at a House Judiciary Committee hearing earlier this month, and no further action has been taken as of Friday.
House Bill 757 would apply the factors and circumstances previously necessary to sentence a defendant to death to life without the possibility of parole sentences. The bill was discussed by the House Judiciary Committee, which has not taken any action as of Friday.