Bryan P. Sears//January 12, 2017
//January 12, 2017
ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Larry Hogan Thursday announced a package of legislation aimed at strengthening criminal laws cracking down on sex offenders and traffickers and drunk drivers.
Included in the governor’s agenda are three bills that Hogan said strengthen victim’s rights and another that provides $5 million in transitional housing assistance for crime victims.
Hogan said his “Justice for Victims” legislative package would “help reduce the number of future crime victims and to help protect our most vulnerable citizens.”
Toping the list of measures on Hogan’s agenda is a bill that would allow courts to admit evidence of a defendant’s prior sexual assault convictions when being prosecuted for subsequent sexual assaults.
“Sexual predators follow patterns of behavior and that a single victim is often not the perpetrator’s only victim,” Hogan said.
The governor highlighted the case of Sarah Foxwell, an 11-year-old girl who was taken from her bedroom in her Wicomico County and was sexually assaulted and murdered. Thomas Leggs, a convicted sex offender, was convicted of the death in 2011.
Hogan said that prosecutors were prohibited from using Legg’s previous convictions against him in other cases that preceded Foxwell’s murder.
“This predator should have been behind bars and off the streets long before Sarah ever became a victim,” Hogan said.
The bill is based on legislation sponsored over the last 13 years by Sen. Jim Brochin, D-Baltimore County.
But the bill has failed in every year that Brochin has introduced it because of prior bad acts are generally inadmissible in criminal proceedings, which generally focus on the act charged and not what had happened earlier because of concerns the information would inflame or prejudice the jury.
Brochin is hoping changes to the bill that would allow the prior bad acts to come in under circumstances where the defendant claims the victim is lying will alleviate some of the concerns about the legislation.
“We’ve gotten this through the Senate previously,” Brochin said. “It’s common sense legislation. As a senator who has been here for 14 years, I’m haunted by the Sarah Foxwell case.”
“There are dozens of cases today in Baltimore City and Prince George’s County where sex offenders are getting out and their past victims can’t even say ‘It happened to me,'” Brochin said.
Also included in the package are $5 million for transitional housing assistance for the victims of crime.
“Individuals, particularly the victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, abuse and neglected youth who are aging out of foster care, face homelessness as a result of becoming isolated from support networks,” Hogan said. “With this funding we’ll provide victims with an opportunity to live in a safe environment and to help them begin to rebuild and heal.”
Legislation in Hogan’s announcement include: