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Gubernatorial Candidate Proposes Criminal Justice Changes

prison.jpegA few months back we posted an article about a Maryland gubernatorial candidate who came out in support of marijuana legalization. Heather Mizeur, who is currently serving as a delegate in the state legislature, made numerous headlines with her public stance on legalized pot. Now the democrat from Montgomery County is in the news again for powerful opinions on the criminal justice system. Mizeur recently released a detailed plan, which calls for modifications to sentencing guidelines and incarceration terms of adult and juvenile criminal defendants. The plan questions the effectiveness of Maryland’s so called tough on crime policies that have resulted in thousands of prison sentences for non-violent offenders. Mizeur refers to her plan as taking a holistic and transformational approach to the criminal justice system. In other words, she believes that rehabilitation and crime prevention, and not punishment, should be the main function of the criminal justice system. This approach is commonplace in many liberal states across the country, but the current administration, including O’Malley and Brown, do not share the same sentiments on crime and punishment.

Candidate Mizeur’s plan focuses on a handful of major modifications toward criminal justice. First, she would like to eliminate minimum mandatory prison sentences for crimes such as transporting a handgun, possession of a handgun by a convicted felon, and repeat offenders of CDS drug distribution offenses. We at the firm share this opinion, and feel strongly that minimum mandatory sentences lack the deterrent effect, which lawmakers intended. Maryland has some of the harshest gun laws in the country, and part of the reason is the existence of minimum mandatory sentences. Convicted felons in possession of a handgun face a five-year mandatory sentence, while a person without any type of criminal record can face a 30-day mandatory jail sentence. These statutes take any type of discretion away from the judge, and overzealous prosecutors take full advantage of their unjust power in these cases. Every criminal case is different, but minimum mandatory sentences have no regard for mitigating circumstances surrounding these cases, and the end result is anything but justice.

Other platforms announced by Mizeur include slowly decommissioning state juvenile detention facilities, and replacing them with smaller treatment based programs. This approach will be more expensive, but will certainly work toward eliminating the harmful and potentially permanent effects on juveniles serving time in these facilities. Mizeur also plans to push for the passage of shielding laws, which would afford non-violent offenders to hide their criminal convictions from prospective employers and landlords. Maryland actually has an extremely efficient and fair process for expunging a criminal case, but expungement is only available to those who have not received a conviction. A defendant convicted of a simple marijuana possession case has no reasonable means to escape the resulting permanent stigma. Other modifications proposed by Mizeur include replacing the current bail system with an exclusively risk-based pretrial release system. Obviously, bail bondsmen are not in favor of this system, but there is no doubt that the bail system is often abused by judges and prosecutors who just want to keep criminal defendants in custody. The bail system was created to assure that defendants would show up to court, but state’s attorneys often ask for outrageously high bails under the guise of public protection. Candidate Mizeur also plans to use the pardon power afforded to the governor more often, and to push for background checks for all firearm purchases, and not just handguns. The Blog will continue to follow the upcoming elections, as well as the legislative session that is currently in its second month.

Benjamin Herbst is a Maryland criminal defense lawyer who handles all types of criminal offenses. Contact Benjamin for a free consultation about your case.