ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland senators on Friday passionately debated a bill that would designate judges, rather than juries, to decide life without parole sentences.
The proposed legislation would repeal the current law that says a jury determines whether a person convicted of first degree murder is sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The bill’s supporters say the measure is a “cleanup” from the 2013 repeal of the state’s death penalty.
Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery County, explained that most of the judges in the state are deciding these sentences themselves, but a handful are sending the cases to a jury.
“It opens the possibility that someone could attack their criminal sentence or conviction on the grounds they didn’t get a jury deliberation on a life sentence,” Raskin said.
But Sen. Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore City, said the measure is much more than a cleanup bill.
“The difference that we’ve always had, and a fundamental component of our justice system, is that the jury is the fact-finding entity,” Ferguson said. “In this case … we will set up a situation where a single judge can say, without any fact-finding by a jury, this person — this individual who committed a heinous, awful crime — one person decides are they in … forever or not.”
Much of the debate on the bill centered around an amendment offered by Sen. Delores Kelley, D-Baltimore County, who proposed an exemption for minors from being sentenced to life without parole.
“We ought to hold these young people accountable, but to put them as children under what in effect is a sentence of death in prison when they are still just children is cruel and unusual punishment,” Kelley said.
The amendment failed, but senators moved the bill for continued discussion Monday.
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