Md. General Assembly

CECIL COUNTY — Maryland State Police troopers assigned to the North East Barrack stopped 31 motorists in Cecil County during September and charged them with drunken and/or drugged driving, according to the latest monthly DUI/DWI statistics released by that barrack.

Those charged people – including 10 Cecil County residents – will be among the last in this state whose traffic cases will be handled under the old driving under the influence and driving while impaired law, as far as penalties go.

That’s because on Oct. 1, a new law emerging from House Bill 707 went into effect, and it is aimed at ensuring harsher penalties – under certain criteria — for people convicted of driving while under the influence or impaired.

The new law is the result of Maryland legislators supporting Gov. Larry Hogan’s implementation of harsher sentences on repeat drunk and drugged drivers last year.

Penalty modifications

The penalty modifications created by the new law deals predominantly with repeat offenders.

A person still would face up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine for his or her first offense and a maximum two-year sentence and a $2,000 fine for a second offense, which had been the highest specified penalty, not counting administrative sanctions, such as driver’s license suspensions and revocations.

The bill that Hogan signed into law now specifies that a person convicted of his or her third DUI offense would face up to five years in prison. For someone with four or more DUI convictions, under the new law, the maximum sentence would be 10 years.

Law enforcement officials in Cecil County applaud the enhanced penalties addressing repeat offenders.

“Repeat drunk-driving offenders are a problem. Drunk-driving is dangerous for everyone – for the person driving drunk and for all of the other motorists on the road, as well as for pedestrians along the road,” commented Lt. Michael Holmes, a Cecil County Sheriff’s Office spokesman.

“It’s frustrating when you stop someone for drunk driving and find out that that person has multiple DUI convictions on his record and is still out there driving.”

Impaired driving is prevalent

MSP Lt. Kirschner, commander of the North East Barrack, told the Cecil Whig that he is not a liberty to comment on laws.

Kirschner did remark that troopers assigned to his barrack, as well as to the other 22 in the state, combat impaired driving on a daily basis while on routine patrol and through special operations.

Based on arrest numbers, he noted, impaired driving is quite prevalent in Cecil County and throughout Maryland.

“We’ve had 259 DUI arrests to date,” Kirschner told the Whig on Oct. 24, when 68 days remained in 2019.

Based on numbers compiled at the North East Barrack during recent previous months, the 31 motorists that troopers charged with driving while impaired during September is about average.

For comparison, troopers at the North East Barrack made 25 DUI/DWI arrests in Cecil County in June, 36 in July and 25 in August, according to monthly MSP statistics.

“It averages out to about one (impaired-driving arrest) a day,” Kirschner said.

Meanwhile, CCSO deputies make approximately 200 DUI/DWI arrests annually, Holmes estimated.

Ken Collins, director of Addiction Services at the Cecil County Health Department, opined that the need for stiffer DUI sentences, which resulted in this new law, reflects how prevalent and serious alcohol abuse is.

“The more stringent drunken-driving penalties should remind all of us of the seriousness of alcohol misuse, and alcohol use disorders. Even in the midst of the current opioid epidemic, alcohol is still one of the top most common addictions in our community,” Collins commented. “We know that addiction is not a character flaw. It is an illness, for which help is available.”

Collins reported that information on substance use disorder prevention, treatment, recovery support and public safety can be found at what he referred to as the agency’s “go-to” website: www.rewriteyourscript.org/. At that site, a visitor must click “local support” for access to resources, including the addresses and phone numbers for care.

Increased sentences

The new law also increases the maximum sentence for someone convicted of homicide by motor vehicle or vessel while impaired, raising the penalty from three years to five years. Should someone be convicted of that offense a second time, he or she would face a maximum 10-year sentence, under the new law.

Lastly, the new law increases the maximum sentence for someone convicted of transporting minor children while driving under the influence from six months to one year and, for any subsequent convictions, to two years.

“These enhanced penalties should serve as a deterrent to repeat offenders in Cecil County,” said Interim Cecil County State’s Attorney James Dellmyer. “It is proven that repeat offenders who drive under the influence are a threat to public safety. My office is committed to enforcing legislation aimed at those who would put the citizens of Cecil County in danger.”

A slew of new laws

The law creating enhanced penalties for certain driving while impaired offenses is one of several new criminal justice statutes that went into effect earlier this month.

Some of them relate to offenses that are rare in Cecil County, such as solicitation to commit murder, while others are tantamount to tweaking existing statues. Each with its corresponding House Bill (HB) or Senate Bill (SB) number, the following are a few of the new laws that went into effect on Oct. 1:

* Alcoholic consumption: HB88 — Drinking and holding an alcoholic beverage in public under certain circumstances or having one in an open container will now be considered a civil rather than a criminal offense.

* Stacey’s Law/murder for hire: HB493 — If a person solicits or conspires with another to commit murder and someone dies, it will now be considered first-degree murder in Maryland with no statute of limitations. Previously, solicitation to commit murder was a misdemeanor with a statute of limitations of three years.

* Electronic harassment: SB103 — This bill broadens what constitutes electronic harassment in Maryland and toughens the penalties against it. A person who uses electronic harassment with the intent of inducing a minor to commit suicide can now be imprisoned for up to 10 years and/or fined up to $10,000. It builds off the original Grace’s Law, named after Grace McComas, a teenager who committed suicide in 2012 after “repeated and vicious harassment online by a neighbor,” according to a legislative analysis.

* Laura and Reid’s Law: SB561 — Named after a woman who was killed while she was 14 weeks pregnant, this new law will impose stricter penalties, including additional imprisonment of up to 10 years, on someone who has committed a crime of violence against a woman with the knowledge that she is pregnant. Laura Wallen, a Howard County teacher, had chosen the boy’s name of Reid for her child.

* Post-conviction review: HB874 — This bill authorizes courts to vacate a conviction if there is new information that calls into question the original ruling. The bill is rooted in the actions of the Baltimore City Gun Trace Task Force, where eight members were charged with crimes like filing false paperwork in 2017. Approximately 1,300 cases may have been affected, according to Legislative Services.

* Decriminalizing gambling: SB842 — Betting, wagering and gambling will be decriminalized in Maryland. The penalty for such offenses was previously imprisonment for up to one year or a fine of up to $1,000. Now, gambling is a civil offense with no possible jail time. Running illegal gambling operations will remain a misdemeanor with possible jail time under the new law.

* Hate crimes: HB240 —It will be illegal to threaten hate crimes — not just to commit them. Threats will be assessed the same misdemeanor penalty of a maximum of three years in prison and/or a $5,000 fine. Hate crimes rose nationwide by 17 percent and in Maryland by 35 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to the FBI.

* Child pornography: SB736 — Computer-generated images that are indistinguishable from identifiable children younger than 16, and engaged in sexual conduct, will now qualify as child pornography. Film, photo, video and “other visual representation(s)” currently qualify. Drawings, cartoons, sculptures and paintings do not. Penalties are up to 10 years in prison and $10,000.

* Jury duty: SB236 — More people will be eligible for jury duty. A jail sentence (or potential sentence) of longer than six months currently disqualifies citizens from service; citizens will now be disqualified for sentences of a year or longer.

* Firearms: SB622 — The Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention will study and gather data on “crime firearms”—those used to commit violent crimes and those possessed illegally. The state expects the study, which will conclude at the end of 2020, to cost about $90,000.

* Pedestrian safety: SB460 — Drivers who fail to stop for pedestrians will face a maximum fine of $1,000, up from $500. The fines will contribute to a Pedestrian Safety Fund, which will be used for traffic calming, enforcement and education.

* Sale of children: HB481 — The sale of a minor will be reclassified to a felony offense. Under current Maryland criminal code, the trade, barter or sale of a child for money or something of monetary value is a misdemeanor offense with penalties not to exceed a fine of up to $10,000 and/or five years incarceration.

* Bump stocks: SB707 –– The transportation, possession, sale, manufacture, receipt or purchase of “rapid fire trigger activators” that were not owned prior to Oct. 1, 2018, is prohibited. Otherwise known as “bump stocks,” these devices increase the rate at which ammunition is discharged from a firearm. Penalties include a maximum fine of $5,000 and/or three years imprisonment.

* Juvenile detention: HB659 –– State law currently permits the Department of Juvenile Services to house children as young as 7 in detention facilities with juveniles up to age 21. Maryland will raise the minimum age of detention to 12, allowing for the exception of those who commit violent crimes or who are at risk of fleeing the court’s jurisdiction.

* Loaning weapons: SB346 –– Owners of handguns and other regulated firearms may be prosecuted for loaning weapons to individuals who they have cause to believe are legally barred from possessing them. This also extends to situations when there is cause to believe that someone may use the weapon to cause harm to themselves or others. Maximum penalties may include a $10,000 fine and prison time.

* Attempted suicide: HB77 –– Maryland will no longer prosecute attempted suicide as a crime. The state previously recognized the act as a crime under English common law. There has been one conviction in Maryland in the last five years. That defendant is serving a three-year suspended sentence and two years of probation.

* Sex trafficking: HB871 — Human trafficking offenses will now be termed sex trafficking; forced marriage will be a felony punishable by up to 25 years in prison and/or a $15,000 fine. Between July 1, 2017, and June 30, 2018, 22 people were sentenced to 39 counts of felony and misdemeanor human trafficking in state circuit courts.

This article contains information provided by the Capitol News Service, specifically the summaries of the new criminal justice laws.

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