Maryland Limits Judges’ Power To Alter Sentences

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Maryland’s highest court has limited the power of trial judges to reduce prison sentences. The Washington Post said the decision limited for the first time a controversial state practice that is believed to be unique. Prosecutors and victims’ rights advocates applauded the ruling. At last, victims will know that there will be some finality,” said Russell P. Butler of the Maryland Crime Victims’ Resource Center.

“Sentence reconsideration” permits judges to modify sentences years or even decades after they have been imposed. The Court of Appeals said that as of July 1, a trial judge may modify a sentence only within five years of its imposition.

Supporters of reconsideration argue that the practice gives defendants an incentive to rehabilitate themselves or cooperate with prosecutors on other investigations. Crime victims say it denies them a sense of finality and that prosecutions seem to linger for years.

In one case last year, a man was charged with killing his girlfriend 20 months after he was paroled from a prison sentence he was serving for murdering his wife. He was able to gain parole because a judge cut 10 years off his 30-year term in the murder case.

The court voted 5 to 1 yesterday to adopt the new rule. The dissent was filed by Judge Dale Cathell, who said he thought sentence reconsideration should be restricted even further. Cathell said that it was “inevitable” the practice would be abused and that public confidence in the courts would thus be eroded.

Link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A15500-2004May10.html

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