Criminal Justice Reform

The Maryland Police Accountability Act

HB 0670 Police Discipline and Law Enforcement Programs and Procedures
SB 0071 Body Worn Cameras, Employee Programs, and Use of Force
SB 0178 Search Warrants and Inspection of Records Relating to Police Conduct

Solis supports the historic bill of police reform measures, called the Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021. This recently enacted bill includes several police accountability measures, including, but not limited to, a statewide use-of-force policy, harsher penalties for cases involving excessive use of force, an expansion of public access to some police disciplinary records, and new limits on no-knock warrants.

This bill is a great step forward to raising the police profession. Unfortunately, the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (a measure making it difficult to hold police officers accountable for their conduct) will not be repealed until July 1, 2022, and the statewide body-camera mandate will not be required until July 1, 2025.

Waiting four years for the implementation of the body-camera mandate is extremely problematic and dangerous. As seen in the George Floyd case, recording police officers’ conduct is vital to holding them accountable. If 17-year-old Darnella Frazier didn’t record George Floyd’s death, his death most likely would have been ruled as a medical incident during police interaction instead of a homicide by a police officer, even with a plethora of bystanders to testify otherwise. Moreover, according to a new report by the University of Chicago Crime Lab and the Council on Criminal Justice’s Task Force on Policing, body-cameras are both beneficial and cost effective. The benefit is a reduced use of police force, and it is cost effective because there are less citizen complaints and averted use of force incidents, and cost deductions that could come from fewer investigations. Thus, it is crucial not just for the public’s safety, but also for saving tax dollars, that the body-camera mandate is implemented as soon as possible, and well before 2025. For this reason, Solis supports introducing an amendment to this measure to expedite this mandate well before 2025.

 

SB 0494 Juvenile Restoration Act

Solis also supports the recently passed Juvenile Restoration Act. The General Assembly overturned Governor Hogan’s two vetoes, and passed this Act this session. This bill abolishes life sentences without the possibility for parole for juveniles.

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court, ruling on party lines, recently rejected a challenge to life sentences without parole issued to juveniles, affirming Mississippi court’s sentence of Brett Jones, who at the age of 15, murdered his grandfather. Jones’ sentence was handed down even though there was never a separate factual finding he was incapable of rehabilitation.

The case discussed whether such sentences without a determination of whether juvenile offenders are incapable of rehabilitation violate the Eighth Amendment’s constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishments. In her dissent, Justice Sotomayor noted that the Eighth Amendment’s constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment requires that most juvenile offenders be given the “opportunity, at some point in their lives, to show a parole board all they have done to rehabilitate themselves and to ask for a second chance.” She also argued that the majority disregarded precedent, Miller and Montgomery.

Denying juvenile offenders the opportunity to seek a second chance is problematic for several reasons.

First, as supported by Justice Sotomayor in her latest dissent, it violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, and therefore, it is unconstitutional.

Secondly, it is also unconstitutional because it goes against precedent. The Supreme Court’s decisions in Graham in 2010, Miller in 2012, and Montgomery in 2016, relied on modern neuroscience demonstrating that juveniles are impulsive, risk-seeking, and easily influenced by peer pressure, all traits that can lead them to commit a crime. Moreover, because juveniles are still maturing, they are less likely to commit another crime as they grow older. Therefore, the Supreme Court found that juvenile offenders deserve an opportunity to reform themselves, thus, cannot be subject to a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. As Justice Kennedy argued in Graham, “[j]uveniles are more capable of change than are adults, and their actions are less likely to be evidence of ‘irretrievably depraved character’ than are the actions of adults.”

Thirdly, juveniles’ brains are not fully developed. Neuroscience and psychosocial studies have shown adolescence to be a period of intense change in the brain. Parts of the brain that drive emotional reactions, impulses and reactivity to peers develop before those that control impulses, and imagine consequences, which enable adults to resist pressures, delay gratification and weigh risk and reward. Scientists who study the juveniles’ brain describe it as a car with a fully functioning gas pedal but no brakes. That is why there are laws acknowledging that children are too immature and irresponsible to engage in activities considered beyond their comprehension, such as entering into contracts, vote, marry, serve on juries, and drink alcohol. Thus, if juveniles’ brains are not fully developed, then why should they be sentenced to life in prison without a chance to reform, or be held as an adult?

Fourthly, unlike adults, juveniles cannot control or escape dysfunctional homes and dangerous neighborhoods—two major contributing factors to youth crime.

Finally, because juveniles’ brains are not fully developed, they have a greater chance for rehabilitation.

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