MD Inmates Seeking Sentence Cuts Under New Law

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With the end of mandatory minimum sentences for repeat drug dealers in Maryland on Sunday, hundreds of prisoners may now ask judges to shorten their terms, the Baltimore Sun reports. Nearly 500 people incarcerated around the state may seek sentence reductions under the Justice Reinvestment Act, a sweeping package of criminal justice reforms approved by the Democrat-controlled General Assembly and signed by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. Now public defenders are preparing to file motions on behalf of inmates as early as Monday. Prosecutors are reviewing cases, and identifying those to object to early release.

The busiest jurisdiction is likely to be Baltimore County, responsible for more than a third of the prisoners at issue. “We believe drug dealers are very dangerous and we always pursue a mandatory minimum,” Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger said. “I believe that with many, many drug dealers, violence comes with it.” The repeal of mandatory minimum sentences reflects growing bipartisan concern that they pressure defendants into taking plea deals, take discretion away from judges, and have a disproportionate impact on minorities. Eighty-one percent of those sentenced in Maryland to a mandatory minimum between 2013 and 2014 were black, said the Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council, a state panel that studied options for criminal justice reform. “The concept that the system can jail its way out of a drug scourge has been shown to be a massive failure,” Maryland Public Defender Paul DeWolfe said. About 80 percent of those now eligible for reconsideration are serving 10-year sentences. Legislators around the U.S. are rethinking mandatory sentences for drug crimes. More than a third of the states have changed penalties for drug crimes in the past five years, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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