By Becca Heller
In a rare turn of events, a bill prohibiting double jeopardy prosecution in Maryland was defeated on third reading in the House of Delegates, 89 votes against to 46 in favor.
Sponsored by Del. Curt Anderson, D-Baltimore City, HB 152 sought to prohibit the state prosecution of a defendant who was acquitted in a federal court for the same crime.
Del. Jay Walker, D-Prince George’s, led the opposition to the bill during debate on the floor of the House, opening with a very direct question to the chair leader of the Judiciary Committee: “Why do we need this bill?”
“Thirteen other states have it, and it’s the right thing to do,” said Del. Joseph Vallario, D-Prince George’s. “You don’t try somebody twice for the same offense.”
Delegates argue criminals could go free
But Walker and a few other delegates questioned the potential implications this bill could have in helping criminals acquitted on a technicality.
“When you came up with this bill, was it your determination that you were putting this bill in so that somebody — let’s say a drug dealer or a gang banger or somebody of that nature — would have the ability to possibly go free because one prosecution wasn’t as strong as possibly another one could be?” Walker challenged Anderson.
Anderson explained that the powerful nature of federal prosecution made it almost impossible — “one tenth of a percentage” chance — for a guilty person to be acquitted in a federal court.
Sponsor: Bill protects people from double jeopardy persecution
“This bill was intended to preserve what we think is a right to be protected from prosecution in double jeopardy,” Anderson said. “It’s a way to protect your constituents who may be innocent, from being charged twice with the same crime.”
But Walker was not convinced. He gave the example of a defendant in his county who was acquitted on a technicality despite the fact that no one doubted his guilt in the case.
“In certain jurisdictions we’re fighting a drug war out there,” said Walker. “And if there is witness intimidation, even with that one-tenth — if there’s a chance that we can put somebody behind bars that deserves to be behind bars — why would we lessen our arsenal so to speak?”
While only a few others stood up to voice their opposition to the bill, when the time came to vote, the call board gleamed red.