This is the first of a series of posts that will examine the results of the recently completed Maryland General Assembly session.
There was not a lot of activity in the criminal justice area in this session. The major piece of legislation - to allow DNA samples to be taken from those accused of certain violent crimes at the time of arrest - was passed, but only with amendments allowing the samples to be expunged if the person is not convicted. Frankly, I'm not sure why this is better than just taking DNA samples from those convicted, as is now done. I suppose we'll find out.
Speed cameras aren't going to appear in most of the state this year. Legislation to authorize their use statewide in residential districts, school zones and work zones was threatened with a Republican filibuster at the last minute and so was dropped from the final agenda. Personally, I don't understand this; Republicans cast this as a 'civil liberty' issue, but where's the civil liberty to blow through a school zone at twenty miles per hour over the speed limit. Given the state of roads and traffic in Maryland, it seems to me that the more of these crazy people we catch the better. I'm betting this comes back next year.
Similarly, we're not going to see a ban on using handheld cellphones while driving. Opponents of this measure said, and rightly, that it's no more dangerous than putting makeup on while driving. But why they decided to keep them both legal rather than outlaw both of them escapes me. It's common sense that using a handheld cell phone while driving degrades the driving performance; just watch someone trying to negotiate a corner with one hand while holding the cellphone with another. I'm betting we see this one again next year.
Legislation to encourage local police departments to record interrogations for serious crimes was passed. This is common sense legislation that would bring Maryland in line with many other states and local jurisidictions. Recording the Miranda warning at the start of an interrogation could reduce subsequent challenges based on an allegation that the warning was defective. In addition, it could resolve many questions about what was said and done over the course of an interrogation. The bill was opposed only by four Republican senators, including Andy Harris, who apparently believe it's better to keep some uncertainty over what was said and done.
Finally, the General Assembly passed The Maryland Mortgage Fraud Protection Act. the bill makes it a crime to knowingly falsify information in mortgage documents to defraud a lender or borrower. The bill passed the House with an overwhelming majority - opposed only by a small group of Republican legislators and passed the Senate with only one vote in opposition - Senator Greenip - who courageously stood up for the rights of those who want to knowingly falsify information and defraud others. I'm sure they'll reward her.
[The photo, by 'Krokodyl' is of a municipal police car in Prague, Czech Republic]