ANNAPOLIS – With Baltimore reeling from a homicide epidemic, the Maryland General Assembly passed legislation this session aimed at preventing and stiffening penalties for repeated gun offenders.
Gov. Larry Hogan said Monday, the final day of the legislature’s 2018 session, that he will sign the series of bills into law.
“We will get tougher sentences for repeat violent offenders,” Hogan said. “If you are a repeat violent felon … we are going to put you in jail and you’re going to do time.”
If enacted, the legislation will impose mandatory minimum sentences on repeat gun offenders, broaden police wiretapping authority in firearms investigations, stiffen punishments for witness intimidation and call for greater funding of witness-relocation and community-based educational, vocation and social programs that offer alternatives to gangs.
Adoption of the mandatory minimum was spurred by Del. Talmadge Branch’s heart-wrenching experience of the shooting death of his grandson in Baltimore last Labor Day. Branch, a Baltimore Democrat, said he had opposed mandatory minimums before 22-year-old Tyrone Ray’s slaying, allegedly by Raekwon Thornton, who had earlier been convicted of illegal gun possession.
Ray is one of the more than 400 people who have been slain in Baltimore since Jan. 1, 2017, a level of violence that spurred the broad-based anti-crime legislation.
The measure adds firearm offenses to the list of suspected crimes enabling the police to seek a judge’s permission to intercept telephone and electronic communications during investigations. That list currently includes more than 22 mostly violent crimes, including murder, kidnapping, rape, child abuse, robbery and human trafficking.
The measure doubles the prison term and fines of those convicted of inducing a victim or witness to either not testify or do so falsely. Such witness tampering and intimidation would be punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
The legislation also calls for increased funding of witness-relocation programs.
On the community front, the legislation provides more money for the Safe Streets initiative — a Baltimore-based program that promotes alternatives to violence in violent neighborhoods — and for team-building outward-bound programs to get youngsters away from the violence.
On Saturday, the House accepted much of the Senate-passed bill. One notable exception was the House’s refusal to accept a Senate provision that would have permitted prosecutors to appeal a judge’s pretrial ruling that a gun should not be admitted into evidence because it had been seized in violation of a defendant’s constitutional rights.
“The House did an enormous job on the crime package,” said Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin, chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and chief sponsor of the Senate crime bill that started as the building block for the House legislation.
Zirkin said the removal of that provision was not a deal breaker as it was not essential to the bill’s goal of bringing repeat violent gun offenders to justice.
“This is what the legislative process should look like,” said Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, adding that the Senate and House were “working together” to take a “holistic approach” to combating crime.