Maryland Gang Law Useless, Prosecutors Say
Prosecutors and police on Tuesday pressed Maryland lawmakers to make it easier to put gang members convicted of crimes behind bars for longer sentences, saying a 2-year-old state statute aimed at doing so had proven all but useless.
Lawmakers, including House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) who sat in on the hearing and asked an usually large number of questions, probed law enforcement officers for specifics on how the Maryland Gang Prosecution Act had failed.
They also seemed split on whether changes were needed. Del. Victor R. Ramirez (D-Prince George's) and others questioning if more draconian sentencing guidelines could inadvertently snare less violent teenagers charged as gang co-conspirators. And House Judiciary Committee Chairman Del. Joseph F. Vallario, Jr. (D-Prince George's), said the legislature did not want to get so specific in setting sentences that it risked undercutting judges' prerogative to order prison terms best fitting circumstances of crimes.
In the course of the hearing, Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy also released some interesting statistics about gang activity:
Last year, Montgomery County prosecuted 524 cases against gang members. In the county, there are now roughly 40 active gangs, and some 1,600 identified gang members, he said.
So far this year, suspects arrested in five of the county's 10 homicides have been gang members.
McCarthy said he believes the high percentage of killings tied to gangs this year is an anomaly. But he and others said the recruiting years for gangs across the state are now 6th, 7th and 8th grades. By the time teens enter high school, McCarthy said police in Montgomery have identified 20 to 25 incoming freshmen, on average, in each school as known members of MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha.
McCarthy asked lawmakers to consider expanding to lesser offenses, such as 2nd-degree assault, the crimes prosecutors can use to leverage gang cases. He also said Maryland needs a state body to set a definition of gang members that can be used consistently across the state to prosecute suspected gang members.
Baltimore City State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy and others said the state's gang law had been used successfully used only once in the last two years, by Prince George's State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey who secured a plea deal with a suspected gang member.
Busch, who represents Anne Arundel County where 15-year-old and 16-year-old suspected gang members face charges in the fatal beating in May of a 14-year-old Crofton boy,
said it doesn't make sense that the state does nothing to curb the influence of gang members in schools.
"In a place that's supposed to be a protective zone - with drug-free zones and predator-free zones - we're saying it's okay ... that gang members can be there."
The question put police and prosecutors in the uncomfortable position of saying the students still had a right to attend classes.
"Being a gang member is not a crime," McCarthy said.
Aaron C. Davis
September 15, 2009; 6:27 PM ET
Categories: Aaron C. Davis , General Assembly , Montgomery County
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