Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. wants prosecutors to have broader powers to combat witness intimidation, the Washington Post reports. During the General Assembly session that begins this week, Ehrlich will propose legislation that would reclassify witness intimidation — now a misdemeanor punishable by five years in prison — as a felony punishable by up to 20 years. The governor also wants a “hearsay exception” that would permit prior statements of victims or witnesses who are not available at trial to be admitted as evidence under some circumstances.
Some lawmakers tried to stiffen penalties for witness intimidation last year, but their efforts stalled in the House Judiciary Committee. Baltimore State’s Attorney Patricia Jessamy said, “We have a very serious problem.” She said one of every four non-fatal shooting cases in Baltimore is lost “because witnesses, as a result of intimidation, go underground and cannot be found, or they come to court after we’ve found them and they recant on the stand.”