Allowing prosecutors to combine charges when someone is accused of sexually abusing more than one child would save time for the court system and lessen the pain for victims' families, Sen. Larry E. Haines told the House Judiciary Committee yesterday in Annapolis.
"Families and children will not have to bear the agony and humiliation of going through several trials," said Mr. Haines, a Westminster Republican. "This also makes it easier [for prosecutors] to show a plan or a scheme of unlawful conduct."
The proposal also would allow charges to be combined when several people have conspired to abuse one child.
In each instance, a judge may separate the charges if he or she feels the accused would be prejudiced by combining them.
The bill passed the Senate March 6 by a 28-19 vote.
"This does take some discretion away from the judge," Mr. Haines told the committee, adding that the catalyst for the bill was a case in which eight children were abused by two men in a small Carroll County neighborhood.
When the charges were separated in court, the parents went to Mr. Haines and requested the proposed legislation, he said.
Most child abuse charges now are separated unless the prosecution can prove the individual incidents are part of a larger pattern of conduct.
During yesterday's hearing, Mr. Haines also testified on bills that would strengthen penalties against marijuana smugglers and make murder during drug violations a death penalty offense.
The marijuana bill would make smuggling 10 pounds of the drug into Maryland a felony, which would carry a penalty of 25 years in jail or a $50,000 fine.
Under current law, smuggling 100 pounds is a felony.
"The practice of smuggling now is to bring in smaller amounts," Mr. Haines said. "It's much easier to conceal."
For example, 30 pounds of marijuana came into Baltimore-Washington International Airport last year in a set of airplane tires, he said. The people involved were charged with misdemeanors instead of felonies.
State police and other law enforcement agencies have supported the bill, saying the penalties should be stronger to reflect an increase in the street price of marijuana.
In previous hearings, officers testified that an ounce of marijuana sells for $175 to $400 an ounce, compared with $20 an ounce in 1980.
On Feb. 17, the Senate passed the marijuana bill by a 38-8 vote.
Mr. Haines' third proposal, designed to strengthen the penalties for drive-by shootings, would allow courts to consider the death penalty in cases in which someone was murdered during a drug crime.
This is the third year he has proposed the drive-by shooting legislation, which was drafted by Carroll County State's Attorney Jerry Barnes.
Each year, the Senate passed the bill but it was killed by the House Judiciary Committee.
The Senate passed the measure 37-to-6 March 14.