ANNAPOLIS – The House Judiciary Committee has dropped from omnibus anti-crime legislation a provision that would permit prosecutors to appeal judges’ decisions to suppress from evidence at trial guns the judges conclude were seized from defendants in violation of their constitutional rights.
The appeal provision, contained in a Senate-passed version of the bill, has been sought by prosecutors as a necessary way to preserve gun-possession charges against violent criminals. Without the authority to appeal evidence-suppression decisions – as is the law currently – the gun charges will continue to be lost, prosecutors have said.
But Del. Kathleen M. Dumais, D-Montgomery and the House committee’s vice chair, said preventing prosecutors from appealing the suppression of gun evidence maintains “a level playing field” between the state and the accused, who often lack the prosecutions’ investigative and financial resources.
The committee voted 11-9 on Tuesday to drop the provision. The panel is expected to finish its changes to Senate Bill 122 and have the full House vote on the measure by the end of the week.
The 2018 General Assembly session ends at 12 a.m. Tuesday.
Addressing the committee’s action, Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger said Wednesday that it would be “reasonable” to permit the prosecution to appeal an adverse suppression ruling prior to trial. However, he said he is more concerned about the House committee’s reduction in the penalties for serious gun crimes during the panel’s consideration of the bill.
“While I wish (the appeal provision) would stay in there, I think there are other provisions of the bill (as amended by the committee) that are more problematic,” Shellenberger said.
Specifically, Shellenberger said he opposes the panel’s dropping of a mandatory minimum sentence for those convicted of possession of an illegal drug with intent to distribute while carrying a gun. He also objected to the committee’s enabling of felons convicted of possessing a handgun to be eligible for parole after serving 25 percent of their sentences rather than the current law’s requirement of 50 percent.
“These are the people that we need to keep off our streets for a long period of time,” Shellenberger said.
If the House passes its version of the bill, the absence of the appeal provision will likely not be a major point of contention between the delegates and senators appointed to hammer out compromise legislation for both chambers to pass and forward to Gov. Larry Hogan for his expected signature, said Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin, the bill’s chief sponsor.
“That’s just a provision in the courts that would be helpful,” said Zirkin, D-Baltimore County and chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. “That’s not the main focus of that bill. The major focus of this bill is violent criminals.”