Lawyers from the state Office of the Public Defender and Legal Aid Bureau Inc. testified Wednesday against a bill sponsored by Delegate Richard N. Dixon, D-Carroll, that would eliminate a privilege to state-provided counsel for convicts appealing sentences.
Dixon told theHouse Judiciary Committee that the intention of the bill is to limitthe number of appeals Maryland death row inmates can make at taxpayers' expense. However, the bill applies not only to those sentenced with the death penalty, but to all convicts petitioning courts to set aside a conviction or sentence on technical legal grounds.
Under the bill, courts would decide whether a person filing a first "post-conviction petition" should be entitled to counsel. Legal assistance now is provided automatically under Maryland law for a firstpetition and is subject to the courts' discretion for ensuing petitions. Post-conviction proceedings commence once appeals through the Maryland Court of Special Appeals up to the U.S. Supreme Court are exhausted.
Dixon said too much public money and court time is spent prolonging cases of death row inmates. They often file one appeal afteranother, he said, citing reasons why their constitutional rights were violated or identifying other grounds for dismissal of the sentence.
Nobody has been executed in Maryland since the death penalty wasreinstated in 1973.
"We should either have a death penalty that'sused or take it off the books," he said, citing the high costs associated with death sentence appeals.
Dixon said he introduced the bill partly to spur public debate on the issue. He said before the General Assembly session started that he expected the concept of the billto be debated over several years.
Both attorneys opposing the bill argued that Maryland has a constitutional obligation to assure thatprisoners have "meaningful access to the courts." That access now isprovided by public defenders, they said. As an alternative, the state could establish law libraries for inmates or a system whereby advisers affiliated with the prison system provide counsel. Setting up such systems would detract from potential savings that could be realizedby the public defender's office, they said.
Also, eliminating theentitlement to counsel could result in prisoners filing "frivolous" appeals that could be inarticulate and waste the court's time, they said.
RIVER STUDY PROMOTED
ANNAPOLIS -- Five delegates representing Carroll and Frederick counties have sponsored a bill seeking General Assembly approval to designate the Monocacy River Study and Management Plan to serve as a guideline for protecting the river.
The Monacacy River is a natural boundary between the two counties and empties into the Potomac River. The waterway is included in Maryland's Scenic and Wild Rivers Program, which seeks to preserve and enhance ecological and other values of rivers.
Delegate Donald B. Elliott, R-Carroll, Howard, is co-sponsoring the bill giving credence to the workof the Monocacy River Citizens Advisory Board.