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Maryland Addresses Sentencing Reform with a Safety Valve

Although Governor Larry Hogan recently missed an incredible opportunity to reform Maryland’s awful civil asset forfeiture laws, he is looking to redeem himself with sentencing reform.

The Maryland legislature recently passed HB 121, a bill that allows the court to go below certain mandatory minimums sentences when the court finds that specific circumstances are met. While Gov. Hogan has decided not to give his signature to the bill, Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) has reported that he also decided to let the bill become law without his signature.

In Maryland, a bill which has passed the legislature becomes law 30 days after it is presented to the governor, unless it is signed or vetoed. After the bill becomes law, the effective date of the law is October 1 of this year.

The bill passed the House of Delegates 83-55 and the Senate 40-7. These votes show how much broad support sentencing reform, and justice reform in general, have among the populous right now. States like Texas continue to lead the charge on justice reform, but Alabama and Oklahoma have also enacted meaningful reform and Gov. Snyder of Michigan has also called for smart reform in his state.

The bill does not fundamentally change the state’s mandatory minimum sentences, but it creates a “safety valve” that allows the court to sentence below the minimum if it “finds and states on the record that, 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.”

In addition, the bill also takes an important step to help individuals overcome their drug addiction. It allows individuals convicted of drug related crimes to participate in a drug treatment program. Previously, many of the individuals that desperately needed help were denied this help while in prison.

The Justice reform movement is building momentum at the state-level across the country. As FAMM President Julie Stewart stated, “Today it’s Maryland. A couple of weeks ago, it was Oklahoma. States across the country are adopting smart sentencing reforms that enhance public safety and reduce wasteful spending.” State legislatures and governors are realizing that the current prison system is bankrupting their state both economically and socially, all without enhancing public safety. Maryland has joined the reform movement, the question is, which state is next?