DATE: November 21, 2023
FROM: Senator Ron Watson, et al
RE: 2024 Anti-Crime Legislation
Since the General Assembly adjourned in April, Maryland has experienced a significant increase of highly visible crimes including carjackings, retail theft, guns and juveniles. A bi-partisan group of concerned Senators have come together to address these issues raised by our community. I have received input from law enforcement, State Attorneys, business owners, parents, MNCPPC, member of clergy, NAACP and our friends and neighbors throughout the 23rd Legislative District who demand that action be taken now.
The purpose of this Memorandum is to set forth several possible initiatives that might make a difference in the upcoming 2024 Legislative Session. The authors of this Memorandum are prepared to work with our Governor, law enforcement, groups such as Moms Demand Action, and virtually anyone who wants to see peace and safety restored in our communities.
This memorandum is divided into five sections, each dealing with a different aspect of the State’s crime problem. Each section contains a description of multiple bills that will be introduced in the General Assembly this year. These bill provide a starting point so that we as a community can come together, discuss, modify, add, and ultimately have a crime-package that we can all get behind and present to the Governor.
A. Closing gaps in our criminal laws and providing for stiffer penalties for repeat offenders
1. The Violent Firearms Offender Act (LR1125). State Senator Ron Watson will be sponsoring this bill with Senators Anthony Muse, Chris West and Mary Beth Carozza as co-sponsors. Last year’s SB 744 was an omnibus bill which never received a vote. As slightly expanded, this year’s bill will make several changes to the law: First, it labels as a felony instead of as a misdemeanor (as at present) the use of a firearm with a magazine holding more than ten rounds of ammunition or an assault weapon in the commission of a felony or a crime of violence. Second, the bill delays parole eligibility for prohibited persons who are caught possessing firearms. Third, it provides that a person caught illegally possessing a firearm is guilty of a misdemeanor and is subject to up to five years imprisonment for the first offense and is guilty of a felony and is subject to up to ten years in jail for any subsequent offenses. This bill would also require the Commissioner of Correction to provide inmates with a re-entry kit and with assistance in obtaining Medicaid benefits upon the inmate’s release from prison which include: (1) At least 1 week of supplies for basic human needs, (2) an ID card, (3) Contact information for entities specializing in re-entry services, housing assistance, substance use treatment, and mental health services, and (4) Assistance in obtaining Medicaid benefits.
2. Illegal and Stolen Firearms. State Senator Chris West will be sponsoring this bill with Senators Ron Watson and Mary Beth Carozza as co-sponsors. In April this year, 4 men stole 50 firearms from a Virgina gun shop with 1 finding its way into a DC school. . If someone possesses an illegal gun or steals a gun, the odds are great that the gun will not be used lawfully but rather in the course of criminal activity. The investigation of the shootings in Brooklyn this past summer will probably establish that the guns used that night were not legally obtained by the juveniles who used them. Illegal and stolen guns are a huge problem on our streets; most juveniles on the streets who are carrying guns are not carrying their weapons lawfully. When seemingly spontaneous violence then occurs, as it did recently on the Morgan State University campus and on the Bowie State campus, it is not unlikely that the gunshots were fired from illegally possessed weapons. Under current Maryland law, the theft of a handgun is just treated like any other property theft crime, and the penalty will depend upon the value of the handgun. The theft of a firearm capable of killing someone, therefore, may carry a lesser penalty than the theft of a vase. This bill is similar to last year’s SB 564, a bipartisan bill. This bill removes the theft of a handgun from the theft statute and establishes a new felony applicable to situations in which a handgun is stolen. It also provides that it is a misdemeanor for a person to possess a firearm not registered in the name of the possessor. For a first conviction, the bill establishes a penalty of not less than 2 years and not more than 5 years imprisonment, and for a second or subsequent conviction, the bill establishes a penalty of not less than 5 years and not more than 10 years imprisonment. Mandatory prison terms generate strong opposition from the judiciary as well as advocates, so they are not included in this year’s bill.
3. Traffic Offenses causing death or life-threatening injuries (LR1021). State Senator Mary Beth Carozza will be sponsoring this bill. Similar to last year’s SB 252, this bill provides that someone who drives negligently and contributes to an accident that results in someone’s death can’t just prepay the fine but must appear in court. Last year, this bill received a unanimous favorable vote in JPR.
4. Excessive speeding on State highways (LR1138). State Senator Mary Beth Carozza will be sponsoring this bill. This bill increases the jail time that can be imposed upon people who cause deaths or life-threatening injuries due to reckless driving and increases the jail time even more in the event of a subsequent offense.
5. Organized Retail Theft (LR1135). State Senator Ron Watson will be sponsoring this bill with Senators Mary Beth Carozza and Chris West. This bill seeks to stop the wanton brazenness of those who steal from our retailers knowing there will be little to no repercussions. In fact, there have been several accounts of individuals who will sell these stolen good at local flea markets. We have all seen images of flash mob theft and vandalism. This bill will make it illegal for anyone to organize or participate in a theft for profit scheme by recruiting or directing another individual(s) to commit organized retail theft. If the total value of all items stolen, in the aggregate, amount to over $1,500, each individual involved in the organized theft will be guilty of a felony. The term “aggregate” will be defined to include organized theft occurring in multiple jurisdictions. In computing the total value of items stolen, any resulting cost to the proprietor of the establishment from which the item were stolen to repair, replace and restock will be added to the aggregate cost of the items stolen. This bill, supported by the Retailers Association, will also allow for the value of thefts to be aggregated across county lines. NOTE: felony theft thresholds, $1500 to $2500 = 5 yrs, $2500 to $100K = 10 yrs, over $100K = 20 yrs
6. Protection at the Pump (LR1175). State Senator Ron Watson and Joanne C. Benson will be sponsoring this local Prince George’s County bill. The District and Prince George’s County have accounted for almost all of the region’s reported carjackings in recent years, according to statistics. Most carjackings take place between 10PM and 2AM, and most often in a busy commercial area where cars are parked and when the owner is entering or exiting the parked vehicle. Women driving alone, disabled persons and senior citizens are particularly vulnerable. We have all seen video of what can happen when a person exits their vehicle, especially at gas stations. This bill provides an option for citizens who prefer to remain in their vehicles, or otherwise vulnerable citizens, and those in high crime areas when pumping their gas. This bill requires an attendant to be available during the hours of 6AM and Midnight at all gas stations in Prince George’s County. This bill also requires gas stations in Prince George’s County to mount security cameras on their premises filming activities that occur outside the gas station in the vicinity of the pumps so that law enforcement will be able to quickly understand how any criminal activity in that vicinity occurred.
7. Maryland Firearm Detection Platform Act (LR1317). Senator Ron Watson will sponsor this bill with Senator Mary Beth Carozza as co-sponsor. In recent months, we have seen mass shootings as Bowie State University and Morgan State. Mass shootings like these occur when many people are gathered publically. Our Colleges and Universities are uniquely susceptible to these random acts of violence as these are places that hold sporting events, homecoming, parades, protests, concerts, and other social activities that are so important to the college experience. This bill seeks to leverage technology that serves as an ADT System (home monitoring) for guns only by conducting an evaluation of existing technology. Law enforcement in PG has provided samples of different types of firearms that have been used to train AI systems to automatically detect firearms during public events and to alert law enforcement. This technology taps into the video feed real-time and provides alerts when there is a "hit" on a firearm. This is currently being used by the Orioles and our County School Systems, Colleges and Universities could also benefit from this technology.
8. Fentanyl. State Senator Bill Folden will be sponsoring this bill with multiple co-sponsors. Fentanyl is sweeping the nation, including Maryland. It is being added to many drug concoctions these days and can easily kill those who ingest it. Fentanyl-related deaths are legion. Maryland’s Criminal Law Article currently prohibits a person from knowingly distributing fentanyl or possessing fentanyl with the intent to distribute it. A violator is guilty of a felony and is subject to imprisonment for up to 10 years. Last year’s SB 464 would have increased the maximum jail penalty to 20 years. Passage of SB 464 this year would send a clear signal that Maryland intends to get very tough on people who fool around with fentanyl. A bill along these lines will be re-introduced by State Senator Bill Folden.
B. Juvenile Crime. Two years ago, significant juvenile crime reform legislation was passed (Chapter 42, 2022 Maryland Laws). In the meantime, certain juvenile crimes have exploded, particularly carjackings, handgun offenses and auto thefts. This situation cannot be ignored.
9. Juvenile Justice Reforms (LR1126). State Senator Ron Watson will be sponsoring this bill with Senators Chris West and Mary Beth Carozza co-sponsoring. The juvenile crime reform package did not anticipate the rise in violent crimes committed by juveniles carrying firearms. With 20-20 hindsight, several of the measures contained in the reform package went too far. This bill includes four provisions which pull back slightly from the reforms: (a) if a juvenile commits a felony or another crime involving a firearm, the case will go to the State’s Attorney, who will then decide how the case will be handled; (b) it lengthens the period for which a juvenile guilty of a misdemeanor can be placed on probation from six months to 2 years and provides that probation extensions in such cases can last up to 3 years; (c) it lengthens the period for which a juvenile guilty of a felony, OR A CRIME INVOLVING A FIREARM can be placed on probation from 1 years to 5 years; (d) it treats offenses involving firearms, for probation purposes, as if they were felonies.
10. Parental Accountability (LR1134). State Senator Ron Watson will be sponsoring this bill with Senators Chris West and Mary Beth Carozza co-sponsoring. In Maryland, a Child in Need of Assistance (CINA) is a legal term used to describe a child who is believed to be at risk of abuse, neglect, or other forms of harm, and as a result, the state may intervene to provide protection and support for that child.
This bill seeks to hold parents accountable for activities that contribute to the neglect of a child and mandate the child AND parents participate in appropriate services. Kids under 13 years old are not subject to the juvenile court system, police and prosecutors are finding that criminal gangs are using kids under 13 to engage in criminal activity on behalf of the gangs because if the kids are caught, they are just reprimanded and sent home. Within hours, they are back on the streets engaging in criminal activity once again. This bill amends the law to provide that in the case of a kid under 13 years old:
ON THE FIRST ARREST FOR AN OFFENSE INVOLVING THE USE AND POSSESSION OF A FIREARM, OR ON THE SECOND ARREST FOR ANY OTHER OFFENSE, A LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER SHALL MAKE A REPORT OT THE LOCAL DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES FOR PURPOSES OF A NEGLECT INVESTIGATION AS PROVIDED BY LAW.
The bill requires both the parents and child to complete all aspects of any plan prescribed by DSS, which may include services such as counseling, parenting classes, substance abuse treatment and supervised visitation in the case of a child who is removed from the home. A parent who fails to complete any services prescribed by DSS must appear in court and may be subjected to the imposition of a court order regarding the completion of any such services. Any violation of the court order may subject the parents to possible contempt of court and fines.
11. Firearm Offenses – Reporting (LR1350). State Senator Ron Watson will be sponsoring this bill with Senators Anthony Muse, Chris West and Mary Beth Carozza. Currently, if a child gets caught with a firearm in school, the firearm is taken and the child is reprimanded. This proactive bill seeks to deal with this situation before the firearm is used in a crime or act of violence. One of the issues I have heard regarding juvenile accountability and firearms is that the Department of Juvenile Services (DJS) get few cases referred to them for action, particularly in the case of firearm offenses. This bill will require DJS to provide an annual report of juveniles that have committed firearm offenses during the intake process.
12. 11 and 12 year olds who commit three or more crimes. State Senator Chris West will be sponsoring this bill with Senators Mary Beth Carozza and Ron Watson co-sponsoring. This bill will amend the law to provide that upon the third arrest of an 11 or 12 year old for a crime that does not fall within the category of “crimes of violence” or a crime committed with a firearm, the child will come under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court system. In such a situation, a case has previously been referred to DSS, the parent and/or child has been court ordered to attend required services and/or interventions, and still the issues continue. At this point it is clear that merely reprimanding the kid and sending him/her home or involving the kid’s parents in trying to control the kid is not working and that wayward kids need the mandated juvenile counseling services that the juvenile justice system is set up to provide. In the case of such 11 and 12 year olds, the legislation should provide that the first time such a child is in the juvenile courts, incarceration would not be an option for such kids; rather the juvenile court shall require the child to be placed on home monitoring so law enforcement will be able to track the child’s whereabouts at any time. Upon yet another offense (which equates to the child’s fourth offense), the juvenile court shall be empowered to incarcerate the child or find an appropriate residential program, i.e. https://freestatemil.maryland.gov/
13. Protecting our Schools – PG Metal Detectors (4LR0823). State Senator Ron Watson will be sponsoring this local Prince George’s County bill. In September, a DuVal High School student, Jayda Medrano-Moore was pistol whipped and shot at point blank range. PGCPS, in response, installed metal detectors at DuVal High School. A few weeks ago, a Glock handgun was brought into Bowie High School. This bill will mandate metal detectors at ALL High Schools in Prince George’s County and will include $100,000 appropriation to defray the costs.
C. Amendments to the Juvenile Interrogation Act. The “Juvenile Interrogation Act” (Chapter 50, 2022 Maryland Laws) is the subject of great controversy. Police and States Attorneys say that it ties their hands in terms of interrogating juveniles in order to solve crimes. Public defenders say that it protects vulnerable kids and only applies when juveniles are “in custody”. Police and States Attorneys say that the term “in custody” is vague enough that the public defenders can argue that unsophisticated juveniles believe that any time a law enforcement officer stops a juvenile and begins to question him, the juvenile is “in custody”. The JIA has two principal parts: (1) it states that whenever a juvenile is interrogated by police, the juvenile has to be read his Miranda rights, using any age-appropriate language promulgated by the Maryland Supreme Court; and (2) unlike adults, who can waive their right to remain silent or talk to a lawyer, the bill states that no juvenile who has been taken “in custody” by a police officer, including a school resource officer, can be interrogated before the juvenile has actually talked to an attorney. The fact is that every time a juvenile speaks to an attorney, the juvenile is instructed to not talk to the police. The first part of the JIA is uncontroversial, but the second part is extremely controversial. Public defenders claim that juveniles frequently confess to crimes they didn’t do, so the second part of the JIA is essential. The law enforcement community counters with the argument that because the courts frequently find that youths are “in custody” when they allege they felt unable to walk away from a police officer, the JIA has eviscerated the ability of law enforcement officers to identify the perpetrators of criminal acts by making it impossible for them to conduct any interrogation of juvenile suspects. The following three bills represent suggested compromises:
14. Juvenile Law – Custodial Interrogation – Parental Consultation (LR1136). State Senator Ron Watson will be sponsoring this bill with Senators Chris West and Mary Beth Carozza co-sponsoring. The Supreme Court’s Miranda decision requires that every person taken into custody by law enforcement must be read the person’s rights to remain silent and to talk to an attorney at any time before law enforcement interrogates the person. This rule applies equally to children and adults. It cannot be curtailed by State law. Two years ago, the Maryland General Assembly enacted the Juvenile Interrogation Act, which provided that all juveniles MUST speak to an attorney after being taken into custody and before they are questioned by law enforcement. Because the question of when a juvenile is in custody has been held to be a subjective decision determined by when the juvenile “thought” he could not leave, most law enforcement officers are refraining from asking juveniles any questions about a crime until they have spoken to an attorney, and the simple fact is that most attorneys in such situations instruct the juvenile client to refrain from talking to law enforcement. This, according to law enforcement, has been an impediment. Under this bill, a parent of a juvenile will have the power to waive the requirement in the Juvenile Interrogation Act that the child MUST consult with an attorney before speaking to law enforcement. This seeks to re-insert parents back into the equation by the requirement of consultation with an attorney OR A PARENT, GUARDIAN, OR CUSTODIAN. Once the parent waives the requirement, the child can always still decline to speak to law enforcement and can still insist that he/she wants to speak to an attorney. If the parent waives the requirement, the bill will provide that law enforcement should afford the child and parent a chance to talk (by phone or in person). The law will not require the parent to be present when the child talks to law enforcement.
15. Crimes committed by juveniles involving firearms or Crimes of Violence. State Senator Mary Beth Carozza will be sponsoring this bill with Senators Ron Watson and Chris West co-sponsoring. This bill will supplement the existing “public safety” exception to the Juvenile Interrogation Act and will provide that, for those cases in which the police have probable cause to believe the juvenile has committed a “crime of violence” or a firearm offense, the second part of the Juvenile Interrogation Act will be eliminated. The first part of the Juvenile Interrogation Act (the reading of the Miranda rights) will remain in place in these cases, but when there is probable cause to believe the juvenile has committed a “crime of violence” or firearm offense, the juvenile will have the same right as all other citizens to talk to the police without being forced to first talk to an attorney. The problem of violent juvenile crime is so serious that the State should not tie the hands of its prosecutors by operating a system that has resulted in juveniles with knowledge of violent crimes or firearm offenses being instructed by their attorneys not to talk to those investigating the crimes.
16. Crimes to be pursued in Juvenile Court. State Senator Chris West will be sponsoring this bill. For those offenses as to which the state’s attorney is willing to commit to file and pursue the cases in juvenile court (not adult court) and as to which the state’s attorney is willing to commit to seek mandatory social services to turn the offender’s life around instead of incarceration, the second part of the Juvenile Interrogation Act should be eliminated. This is important because a fundamental purpose of the 2022 juvenile crime reform legislation was to provide social services to wayward juveniles instead of incarceration, and it is impossible to provide such services unless the juvenile responsible for the crime can be identified. If the Juvenile Interrogation Act prevents law enforcement from identifying the juvenile offender because juveniles who witnessed the crime or have knowledge about it have been directed by their attorneys to not talk to law enforcement officers, the salutary purpose of the juvenile reform law is blunted and even obliterated.
17. Social Services for Juvenile Offenders. State Senator Chris West will be sponsoring this bill, with State Senators Ron Watson and Mary Beth Carozza as co-sponsors. Information suggests that the Department of Juvenile Justice does not have sufficient funding to adequately provide needed supervision and social services for the State’s juvenile offenders. This is unacceptable. The underlying premise of the juvenile crime reform legislation that the General Assembly passed two years ago was that data demonstrates that the incarceration of juveniles is counterproductive and that the preferred, data-proven approach is that one in which wayward juveniles are provided with effective supervision and social services. Much of the juvenile crime reform legislation thus assumed that the State would be capable of providing such effective supervision and social services to its juveniles. If these essential social services and adequate supervision are not being provided, it means that youthful offenders are not being held accountable for their crimes and are not being rehabilitated.
This bill will do two things: (a) Considerably beef up the existing monitoring of juvenile incarceration facilities and expand the mission of the monitoring team to include effective monitoring of the supervisory and social services program for juvenile offenders.The head of the monitoring program will be elevated to a gubernatorial appointment, subject to confirmation by the State Senate.The periodic reports of the monitors will be provided to each member of the General Assembly.Regular monitoring of juveniles who are receiving supervision and/or social services will be required in order to ensure that the needed supervision and social services are being effectively provided.(b)Establish a summer study of the current ability of the Department of Juvenile Services to provide effective social services to juvenile offenders. Members of the commission will include the Secretary of the Department of Juvenile Services or his nominee, a State Senator appointed by the Chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, a State Delegate appointed by the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, representatives of the States Attorneys, the public defenders, the State police chiefs and the Office of the Attorney General. The study commission will be charged with recommending reforms along with the necessary funding levels to sustain them.
D. Prisoner Release bills
18. Re-entry Reform (LR1125). This bill would require the Commissioner of Correction to provide inmates with a re-entry kit and with assistance in obtaining Medicaid benefits upon the inmate’s release from prison.
E. Policing Reforms
19. A study of police understaffing State Senator Chris West will be sponsoring this bill. Most of Maryland’s police departments are short-staffed, resulting in fewer “feet on the street” to fight crime. The understaffing has gotten worse in the last few years despite resourceful efforts to increase the successful recruiting of new officers. Last year, SB 18, as amended, was a bipartisan bill which passed on the floor of the State Senate 47-0. Both SB 18 and the House cross-filed bill died without action in the House Appropriations Committee. These bills would have set up the Police Retention Workgroup to study issues and factors potentially contributing to the decline in police officer recruitment and retention statewide. Certainly, the high vacancy rate in police department staffing is contributing to the severity of crime in Maryland, so a well-conceived study to get to the bottom of this problem would be a good first step in the State’s efforts to fight crime. A bill along these lines should be introduced with bipartisan sponsors in 2024, preferably as a part of the Governor’s anti-crime initiative.
20. Making positive information in police officer files public. State Senator Jack Bailey will be sponsoring this bill. Last year’s SB 69 (Bailey), which passed in the State Senate 45-2, would have required that positive community feedback about police officers be included in their discoverable personnel files under the PIA. Chapter 62 of the 2021 Maryland Laws established that, except for a record of a technical infraction, a record relating to an administrative or criminal investigation of misconduct by a law enforcement officer, including an internal affairs investigatory record, a hearing record, and records relating to a disciplinary decision, is discoverable under the PIA under certain circumstances. SB 69 thus would have established that positive community feedback about police officers would be produced under a PIA request at the same time that negative information about the police officers is produced. Although SB 69 passed in the State Senate, it died without a vote in the House Judiciary Committee.
Just as there are lots of fish in the sea, lots of suggestions for fighting crime will certainly bubble up to the surface in the next several months. The ideas set forth above are merely the suggestions of a small group of State Senators, law enforcement and concerned community residents and certainly not an exhaustive list. The ultimate goal is a package of bipartisan legislation that can be passed in the Maryland General Assembly and that will have a measurable impact on crime in Maryland and in particular, Prince George's County.
A Crime Forum will be held on November 28th, 6:00Pm - 8:30PM at Bowie State University's Student Ballroom. This forum will be the first of its type in the 23rd Legislative District and the 4th Prince George's Councilmatic District to use a "Community Think Tank" consisting of Law enforcement, States Attorney, School Superintendent, DJS, business owners and YOU, to craft legislation in real-time in an attempt to reduce crime, re-engage the community, and re-enable law enforcement with the tools they need by working on legislative modifications in real-time. Call 301-852-3094, or email firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know your will be coming as space will go quickly..... Yours in Service