Urges State Lawmakers to Embrace, Broaden Council’s Proposals
FAMM Director of Strategic Initiatives Kevin Ring today praised the members of the Maryland Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council (JRCC) for including mandatory minimum prison sentencing law reforms in their final report to lawmakers. The JRCC, which includes representatives from Governor Larry Hogan’s office and the Maryland General Assembly, state prosecutors and judges, and other stakeholders, has been meeting since June to develop sentencing and prison reforms to help the state reduce both crime and prison spending.
“Maryland has emerged as one of the nation’s leaders in advancing smart, cost-effective sentencing reforms,” Mr. Ring said. “The reforms proposed today, when combined with the improvements adopted earlier this year by the legislature, would help to rid the state of its most wasteful and counterproductive mandatory minimums.”
Included in the JRCC report are recommendations to:
- Apply the recently enacted judicial safety valve retroactively. During the 2015 legislative session, the General Assembly passed a FAMM-supported “safety valve” for mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. The safety valve authorizes courts to sentence beneath the mandatory minimum if “giving due regard to the nature of the crime, the history and character of the defendant, and the defendant’s chances of successful rehabilitation: (1) the imposition of the mandatory minimum sentence would result in substantial injustice to the defendant; and (2) the mandatory minimum sentence is not necessary for the protection of the public.” Although the law applied to future offenders, the JRCC report would allow inmates already serving drug mandatory minimums to apply for resentencing under the safety valve.
- Shift the burden to the government to establish need for mandatory minimums. The JRCC report also urges state lawmakers to amend the safety valve law so that the burden is on the state to argue for the mandatory minimum rather than on the defendant to argue for a below-mandatory minimum term under the safety valve.
- Eliminate disparity between crack and powder cocaine penalties.
The JRCC also recommends that state lawmakers eliminate the distinction between the amount of crack cocaine and powder cocaine that triggers a mandatory minimum sentence.
The JRCC report further recommends that state lawmakers consider eliminating all mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. In the coming months, FAMM will strongly encourage lawmakers to support a complete repeal of mandatory minimums, as well as to consider additional, intermediate steps, such as extending the safety valve to the state’s drug-free school zone law. Just three weeks ago, FAMM released the results of a new poll of Maryland residents, which revealed that an overwhelming 70 percent of Maryland residents support repealing mandatory minimums for nonviolent offenses. (Click here for an overview of the complete poll results.)
Ring said that Maryland’s elected leaders, spurred by broad public support for sentencing reform, are right to act boldly. “Leaders in Washington, DC could learn a lot from their counterparts in Annapolis. Maryland is lucky to have forward-looking leaders like Senator Michael Hough and Delegate Curt Anderson, who promoted the safety valve through the legislature, as well as Senator Bobby Zirkin, who chairs the Senate’s Judicial Proceeding Committee and also was the JRCC’s sentencing subgroup leader. We also want to acknowledge Governor Hogan and Christopher Shank, who is the chairman of the JRCC,” said Ring. Ring also praised the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Public Safety Performance Project and its team for ably guiding the JRCC process and advising its members.
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