Tomorrow in Annapolis, Fraud With Peril’s very own Steve Levin will be testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee in an effort to push for more appropriate gun laws for state court defendants.
Oh, State’s Attorney Pat Jessamy will be there as well.
Here is an advance copy of Steve’s highly-anticipated remarks:
- Good afternoon. Chairman Frosh, Vice Chairman Gladden, and members of the committee. Thank you for the opportunity to discuss this gun legislation that will affect the rights of those citizens of Maryland who find themselves or their family members caught up in the state judicial system.
- Although I am a former federal prosecutor in the District of Maryland and helped to implement Maryland Exile as the Deputy Chief of the Violent Crimes Division, it is my status as a criminal defense attorney that brings me to be here today to urge the passage of Senate Bill 274.
- Simply put, as the law currently stands, state court defendants charged with possession of a regulated firearm after conviction for a crime of violence or drug felony have very little incentive to accept a plea deal. They know that if they go to trial and get convicted, they will receive a sentence of five years. If they plead guilty, they will receive a sentence of five years. As a result, all too often they plead not guilty. As you have heard from law enforcement officials as well as local and state prosecutors — that’s not good for the system. It is not. I will go one step further and say it’s not good for the defendants. I am not alone here, as I am joined by the former president of the Maryland Criminal Defense Attorneys Association, who expresses a similar sentiment in his March 10 letter submitted to this committee.
- By exercising their Constitutional right to plead not guilty, these defendants run the risk of becoming federal defendants or having their cases held hostage to an overburdened state court system. Only after being indicted federally do they realize that the penalties in federal court are indeed much greater. At the same time, those who have maintained their innocence also realize that going back to state court is no longer an option.
- And the risk of being indicted federally is real: In 2009, the USAO, under Maryland Exile, indicted 380 defendants throughout Maryland, mostly for gun-related crimes. In 2008, the USAO indicted 317 defendants under Maryland Exile.
- The lack of a plea incentive actually does more harm than good for these one-time state court defendants. Once they find themselves in Federal Court, they will likely be detained pre-trial without bail and find themselves faced with much longer sentences. If they choose to exercise their right to a trial, they face strong odds of conviction and if convicted, even longer sentences to Federal Prison
- They will find that these Federal Prisons are located outside of the State of Maryland. This means for them, fewer family visits, fewer connections to their home, and their communities, and even less chance of rehabilitation upon their release.
- And their release from Federal Prison comes with a price: Supervised Release, a violation of which can cause a significant penalty and likely return to jail.
- The bottom line is that the lack of an incentive to plead in state court actually hurts these defendants, some of whom do not believe they will be indicted federally. Those defendants would have been much better off had they been faced with a choice in state court they could understand and a choice they could appreciate.
- So far, we have been talking about state court defendants who at least have a choice; as the law currently stands those defendants who possess long guns or shotguns, for instance, have no choice: they will either face federal charges or no charges (unlikely because of the prior criminal history). SB 274 would also address that challenge and allow Maryland citizens to face state charges, where the penalties upon a conviction would more appropriately fit the crime.
- For these reasons, I urge passage of SB 274. I am happy to answer any questions. Thank you.