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Advocates for abused women urge repeal of perjurers’ lifetime testimony ban

ANNAPOLIS — With enactment a foregone conclusion, the House Judiciary Committee heard testimony Wednesday on legislation that would repeal Maryland’s lifetime ban on convicted perjurers from testifying in court.

Advocates for abused women told the committee that lifting the ban is essential for the prosecution of their abusers and to protect them from future assault when they have a perjury conviction on their record.

The women are currently barred from testifying in court if they have ever been convicted of perjury, said Lisae C. Jordan, executive director and counsel for the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and Dorothy J. Lennig, director of the House of Ruth’s domestic violence legal clinic.

Repealing the ban “will help particularly in rape cases and cases of sexual assault,” Jordan told the House committee.

Both the House and Senate have already passed cross-filed and identical versions of the repeal. The House passed House Bill 237 by a vote of 118-21 on Feb. 25; the Senate passed Senate Bill 150 by a 46-0 vote Feb. 12. Each bill now must be approved by the other chamber before being presented to Gov. Larry Hogan for his expected signature.

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, Hogan’s deputy chief of staff, has previously told lawmakers.

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.

Sen. Susan C. Lee, D-Montgomery, is the chief sponsor of SB 150. Del. William C. Smith Jr., D-Montgomery, is chief sponsor of HB 237.