Baltimore judge assails constitutionality of Hogan’s judicial scorecard

Steve Lash//February 4, 2020

Baltimore judge assails constitutionality of Hogan’s judicial scorecard

By Steve Lash

//February 4, 2020

ANNAPOLIS – A Baltimore judge Tuesday assailed as constitutionally suspect Gov. Larry Hogan’s legislative proposal to require a state commission to compile the violent crime sentences handed down by each Maryland circuit court judge, saying the bill could spur harsher sentences from jurists fearful of being criticized by the governor as too lenient.

Hogan’s proposed judge-by-judge sentencing report “fundamentally cuts against due process and separation of powers,” Baltimore City Circuit Judge Shannon E. Avery told the House Judiciary Committee.

Judges must remain unswayed by fear of public ridicule and be independent of the executive and legislative branches of government when handing down sentences, Avery said in voicing the Maryland Judiciary’s opposition to the bill.

“There (must) not be an accountability for our individual decisions as judges to any other agency of government,” Avery said.

But Cara Sullivan, a legislative aide to Hogan, told the House committee that the sentencing data on individual judges would bring greater “transparency” to a criminal justice system little understood by the general public.

“A lack of transparency promotes distrust,” Sullivan said. “We need to make sure people have access to information about the system.”

Under House Bill 355 — dubbed the proposed 2020 Judicial Transparency Act – sentencing data would be supplied to the State Commission on Criminal Sentencing Policy for every conviction related to a violent crime. The data would include the name of the sentencing judge, the crime, the sentence imposed, the applicable sentencing guidelines range and, if applicable, the reason the sentence departed from the guidelines and why a portion of the sentence was suspended.

Sullivan, speaking for Hogan, said the reporting requirement is about providing information and is neither intended to diminish judicial discretion in sentencing nor spur mandatory sentences.

“Judges are key players in our criminal justice system,” Sullivan told the committee. “This is about providing transparent information to our citizens about what’s happening in the criminal justice system.”

But Avery disputed that claim, saying Hogan’s call for greater judicial transparency is belied by his public criticism of what he has labeled the judiciary’s lenient sentencing of violent criminals and the need for judges to be held accountable.

Having the sentencing commission compile the sentences of individual judges is intended to achieve the governor’s goal by spurring severe punishments, Avery said.

“This bill is expressly designed to inhibit judges’ discretion in sentencing,” Avery told the House panel. “There is a danger in politicizing the work of the commission and the individual discretion that judges exercise in their sentencing decisions.”

But Del. Robin L. Grammer Jr., a House Judiciary Committee member, called the governor’s goal of a more transparent judicial system “very valid.”

“It’s really tough to see into the system,” said Grammer, R-Baltimore County. “We have a legitimate concern. How do we provide more access to the public about sentencing?”

HB 355 has been cross-filed in the Senate as Senate Bill 272.

Hogan’s proposal failed in the General Assembly last year.

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee eliminated a provision requiring that individual judge’s sentences be submitted to the State Commission on Criminal Sentencing Policy. The Senate passed the amended bill, but the measure died in the House Judiciary Committee.



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