Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. signed a bill to combat witness intimidation that chief Baltimore prosecutor Patricia Jessamy called a “toothless tiger.” The witness intimidation bill, which allows judges to admit some statements from witnesses who cannot appear in court, was Ehrlich’s most difficult victory in legislative session that ended last month.
Jessamy said the law allows judges to admit written, but not recorded, testimony from witnesses. It also requires that a judge find “clear and convincing evidence” that the witness could not appear because of intimidation. The standard in federal law is a “preponderance of evidence,” an easier standard. Another problem, she said, is that it limits the use of written testimony only in violent or certain drug crimes, a standard that does not include all child abuse and domestic violence cases. “It’s still a toothless tiger, but we’re going to work immediately to give it strength,” she said. The bill was watered down after opposition in the legislature.