Larry Hogan, the popular Republican Governor of Maryland – a predominately democratic state, has slowly begun to show his conservative values as it relates to crime and the criminal justice system. The “common-sense conservative”, as some in the GOP have labeled him, had been at the forefront of reforming the criminal justice system during his first term as Governor of the blue state.
However, since winning re-election last year, his first-year legislative agenda seems more in line with the conservative values that drive many in the Good Ole Boy party. One bill, entitled the Repeat Firearms Offender Act of 2019, isn’t a new bill, but rather a piece of legislation the governor has been trying to pass for some time now, in his quest to paint Baltimore City judges as “soft on crime”.
Problem is, he continues to use an inaccurate statement made by the city’s former police commissioner, Kevin Davis, who took to the airwaves to express his discontent for judges who as he stated, were allowing 60% of those found with guns to receive suspended sentences or otherwise not being given their full sentences. What Davis, and Governor Hogan, don’t take into account is, the numbers given from an 18-month period that they randomly selected, doesn’t account for cases where these gun charges may have been reduced or dropped given a larger sentence handed down for other charges included in the indictment, such as armed robbery or murder.
However, instead of having his Department of Corrections or State Police to do real research into the matter, Governor Hogan has continued to crusade against city judges after they refused to meet with him at his offices a few years back. Having invited the members of the now defunct Criminal Justice Coordinating Counsel to his downtown offices, Governor Hogan grew frustrated when the unbiased judges refused to entertain his meeting, due to them having to remain neutral in their politics.
Now he [Governor Hogan] continues to point the finger at judges, who he continues to label as “soft” or “ineffective” as it relates to curbing Baltimore’s growing crime epidemic. So his latest legislation would institute a mandatory minimum sentence for anyone convicted of possessing a firearm in the commission of a violent crime. The same governor whose criminal justice reform legislation a few years ago looked to eliminate the very mandatory minimum sentences that have been proven ineffective in curbing crime or reforming criminals, now seeks to implement yet another mandatory minimum sentence – just in time for a possible Presidential or Congressional run.
The second bill that has legal and criminal justice experts up in arms is HB719, which is set to be heard in the House’s Judiciary Committee later today. This bill would eliminate the use of diminution credits for anyone convicted of life when seeking a parole hearing. Currently, anyone sentences to life with the possibility of parole, must wait fifteen years before being granted their first parole hearing. That time is made up of both time served, as well as good time, double celling or any work or school credits earned by the prisoner in what is known as diminution credits.
Someone convicted of first-degree murder however, is not eligible to obtain that parole hearing until serving twenty-five years, also including diminution credits. Yet the Governor’s bill would eliminate the calculation of such credits, and extend the fifteen year waiting time to twenty-five years, while extending the twenty-five years that murderers must wait to thirty years. And there’s still no guarantee that they will receive approval of parole by the parole commission once they do go up for their hearing.
In fact, most prisoners with life typically don’t get approved for parole on their first hearing anyway, as the average “lifer parolee” doesn’t receive approval until after their third parole hearing. And if this bill is passed, that would make the average lifer unable to make parole until roughly 30 years behind bars. In Fiscal Year 2018, the Division of Corrections received 126 inmates serving life sentences, with only fourteen of those inmates being eligible for parole in fifteen years, and 38 eligible for parole after having served 25-years (prisoners sentenced to life without parole cannot receive a parole hearing).
Therefore, it is clear that this bill isn’t being introduced to close some gaping loophole or injustice that is releasing dozens of lifers before they serve twenty years, as that’s not the case at all. It’s clearly another scare tactic bill by a Republican that looks to make those sentenced to life as the big bad wolf, and thereby showing that they are the white knight that is “tough on crime”. But given the data, this bill would negatively effect only a few dozen inmates, and be the set-up for the next go round, where they will try to eliminate diminution credits altogether for anyone convicted of a violent felony, regardless of the amount of time they received.