The Maryland House of Delegates voted Thursday to give final approval to legislation that will authorize the state’s Attorney General’s Office to prosecute police for unjustly killing or seriously injuring civilians.
Senate Bill 280, sponsored by Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair Will Smith, passed on a vote of 99-37. Because it was not amended in the House chamber, it does not need final approval from the Senate before it is signed into law by Gov. Wes Moore.
The bill builds on 2021 police reform legislation tasking the Independent Investigations Division of the Attorney General’s Office with the responsibility of investigating circumstances where excessive force was potentially exerted by law enforcement.
Under current law, local state’s attorneys decide if officers should be prosecuted after they receive the attorney general report.
House Republicans didn’t pass Smith’s legislation without a fight, lobbing four amendments at the bill. They all failed.
House Minority Leader Jason Buckel, an attorney from Allegany County, called the bill “radical” and “a clear departure from what we’ve always done.”
According to Buckel, 23 of Maryland’s top 24 prosecutors oppose the bill because it takes away their prosecutorial authority. He offered an amendment that would give state attorneys’ offices a 60-day window to make a charging decision and allow them to argue the case if they decide to prosecute the officers involved. If they decline to pursue the case, the Attorney General would have the authority to prosecute after the 60-day window is up.
Buckel said that, to date, none of the 25 cases investigated by the attorney general’s office has been prosecuted.
House Judiciary Committee Chair Luke Clippinger, a Democrat representing South Baltimore, urged his colleagues to reject Buckel’s amendment. Clippinger is an assistant state’s attorney in Anne Arundel County.
“This bill is about the confidence we have in the process,” Clippinger said.
Clippinger explained that the legislation “takes the next step” to ensure prosecution after the “extensive debates” the General Assembly had regarding police accountability and reform in 2021. The House Chair also argued that giving current Attorney General Anthony Brown the power to pursue these cases — as Marylanders trust him to do with Medicaid fraud and environmental and organized crime — would remove doubt or bias in prosecutorial decisions because the attorney general is elected statewide and his office is an independent agency.
“That peppercorn of doubt, if we can take that off the table, that’s what we should do,” Clippinger said. “We want there to be clarity.”
Maryland Policy & Politics
Buckel’s amendment failed on a vote of 35-98.
House Minority Whip Jesse Pippy of Frederick also unsuccessfully offered an amendment to remove prosecutorial power from local state’s attorneys and give it to the Office of the State Prosecutor, which investigates violations of Maryland election law, ethics violations and bribery or misconduct involving state employees or elected officials.
Pippy called the office “non-political.”
“If one of us get in trouble, that’s who would investigate us — that’s who would prosecute us,” he said.
Defending the bill, Clippinger said that the state prosecutor’s office does not have experience investigating violent or organized crime. The amendment failed 37-96.
Del. April Rose of Frederick and Carroll counties and Del. Mike Griffith of Cecil and Harford counties offered amendments, as well. They both were rejected, and the bill passed with no amendments.
The General Assembly will adjourn for the year on Monday. Moore is expected to begin signing bills Tuesday.