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Editorial Advisory Board: Some bills deserve a second chance in Annapolis

As we mentioned last week, there are a few bills that did not make it through the recently concluded General Assembly session that we hope lawmakers will take a second look at next year. Please revisit:

SB 265/HB 559 Probation Not Deportation.  Probation before judgment enables nonviolent first-time offenders to enter a guilty plea and receive probation. If the person completes the probation period without incident, the criminal conviction is erased from their record.

But pleading guilty, as our law currently requires, makes undocumented people in Maryland vulnerable to deportation and ineligible for citizenship. SB 265/HB 559 would have allowed judges to order probation without requiring a guilty plea.

The bill had support from the Maryland Office of the Attorney General, the Maryland State’s Attorneys’ Association, the Maryland State Bar Association, the Maryland Office of the Public Defender, the Maryland Criminal Defense Attorneys’ Association, the Round Table of Former Immigration Judges — and the Daily Record’s Editorial Advisory Board.

SB 562 Geriatric and Medical Parole. 6.4% of Maryland’s prison population is over the age of 50. A substantial number of incarcerated people suffer from serious medical conditions that would be better treated in the community. But Maryland’s provisions for geriatric and medical parole are woefully inadequate.

The geriatric parole provision applies only to repeat violent offenders — no first-time offender can qualify for geriatric parole, regardless of age. And medical parole, as currently implemented by the Maryland Parole Commission, requires that people seeking parole be so incapacitated as to be days away from death.

Even the chairman of the Maryland Parole Commission, David Blumberg, recognized the need for geriatric and medical parole reform in a General Assembly hearing this session. Sen. Shelly Hettleman’s bill would have expanded access to geriatric parole and lowered the threshold for the release of incapacitated people without threatening public safety.  Time ran out on the bill, which deserves another look.

SB 768/HB 833 Safe Harbor and Service Response. Minor victims of human trafficking often avoid law enforcement for fear that they will be sent to juvenile detention, or worse, tried as adults rather than helped. SB 768 would have prohibited law enforcement from sending children suspected of having been trafficked to juvenile detention facilities and made trafficking an affirmative defense in a delinquency proceeding.

According to the University of Maryland Support, Advocacy, Freedom and Empowerment (SAFE) Center for Human Trafficking Survivors, there were more than 1000 arrests of young people aged 21 and under for prostitution in Maryland between 2010 and 2020. Of those arrests, 110 were of children under 17; 33 were children 15 and younger. Federal law defines these children as victims of sex trafficking, but Maryland continues to treat them as criminals.  SB 768 would prevent their criminalization.

SB 165 Juvenile Court Jurisdiction. Although the General Assembly passed a spate of juvenile justice reform bills this session, it did not pass SB 165, which would have ended the automatic removal of certain kinds of cases involving children to adult court because of the nature of the charges filed.

Maryland law requires that some children be automatically referred to adult court for 33 separate offenses. Most of those sent to adult court are children of color. Per capita, only Alabama sends more children into adult court than Maryland. SB 165 would have brought Maryland into line with other states and human rights law by requiring that all cases involving juveniles be initially charged as delinquency cases, allowing for waiver to adult court in appropriate cases.

A great deal gets done in the very short legislative session each year.  A few bills are always left behind.  We appreciate the work of the General Assembly and hope to see them take up these important bills again next year.

Editorial Advisory Board members Arthur F. Fergenson and Debra G. Schubert did not participate in this opinion.


James B. Astrachan, Chair

James K. Archibald

Gary E. Bair

Andre M. Davis

Arthur F. Fergenson

Nancy Forster

Susan Francis

Leigh Goodmark

Roland Harris

Michael Hayes

Julie C. Janofsky

Ericka N. King

Angela W. Russell

Debra G. Schubert

H. Mark Stichel

The Daily Record Editorial Advisory Board is composed of members of the legal profession who serve voluntarily and are independent of The Daily Record. Through their ongoing exchange of views, members of the board attempt to develop consensus on issues of importance to the bench, bar and public. When their minds meet, unsigned opinions will result. When they differ, or if a conflict exists, majority views and the names of members who do not participate will appear. Members of the community are invited to contribute letters to the editor and/or columns about opinions expressed by the Editorial Advisory Board.