The Maryland attorney general's office next month expects to complete a review of sentences given to drunken drivers in Howard County to determine if judges here have been too lenient.
"I think at this point it's premature to talk about what the results might be. I really don't have a clue," said Deputy Attorney General Judson P. Garrett Jr., who is in charge of the review. "It could be that it will reveal a need for some sort of legislation in the next session of the General Assembly."
Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran asked for the review of drunken driving dispositions following an Oct. 14 report in The Howard County Sun that revealed a pattern of lenient sentencing for drunken drivers by local judges.
The series of stories reported that about 60 percent of the drunken drivers convicted in Howard County were given a sentence of probation before judgment, or PBJ, which means a judge set the conviction aside and the driver received no points against his driving record for the offense.
Judges in Howard County used PBJ in drunken driving cases at least twice as often as judges in the majority of Maryland counties, the stories showed.
The stories also revealed that many drunken drivers convicted in Howard County avoided jail time, community service and heavy fines.
Deputy Attorney General Dennis M. Sweeney originally was assigned to conduct the review, but the job was recently transferred to Garrett because Sweeney is being considered to fill a Circuit Court judgeship in Howard County.
As part of the review, Garrett said he will be looking at drunken driving sentences statewide to see how they compare with sentences given by local judges. He also plans to talk to prosecutors in the county state's attorney's office, the public defender's office, members of the county bar association and representatives from Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
"The threshold question is 'are their (Howard county's) numbers at all significantly different," Garrett said. "I don't know what the answer to that is at this point, but it should be fairly easy to determine."
Curran, in an interview in October, said a PBJ sentence "is appropriate under certain circumstances, but it should not be routine."