ANNAPOLIS — Governor Larry Hogan announced January 12, 2017, the administration’s Justice for Victims Initiative, a series of proposals to help prevent future victims of crime, protect Maryland’s most vulnerable citizens, and stop repeat offenders. Joining the governor for the announcement were leading victims’ rights advocate Roberta Roper; Wicomico County Sheriff Mike Lewis, and Sergeant David Owens, who investigated the 2009 murder of Sarah Foxwell by a repeat sexual predator; anti-drunk driving advocates Rich Leotta and Marcy Goldman; and Baltimore County Senator Jim Brochin, as well as cabinet secretaries, state’s attorneys, and state and local law enforcement officials.
The Justice for Victims Initiative includes proposed legislation that will help prevent repeat sexual predators, protect victims of human trafficking, provide transitional housing for victims of crime, and toughen penalties for repeat drunk drivers.
“Making Maryland safer begins with making sure that we have a criminal justice system that holds offenders accountable for their actions and the harm they cause, while also supporting victims and the community in the process of healing,” said Governor Hogan. “The Justice for Victims Initiative we are announcing today is bipartisan, common sense legislation that will help protect the most vulnerable among us, improve services for the victims of crimes, and help us reduce and prevent the number of future victims of crime.”
“The voices of crime victims and survivors are making our nation a better place to live, and making for a more just and fair society,” said Roberta Roper. “To achieve positive change, someone has to listen and someone has to take action to change old behaviors and fully apply the law. We thank Governor Hogan for listening and making positive changes.”
The proposals announced by Governor Hogan build on a strong record of protecting and supporting victims of crime in Maryland. During the 2016 legislative session, the Hogan administration worked closely with the legislature to enact the Justice Reinvestment Act, a landmark criminal justice reform law that includes key provisions to strengthen victims’ rights, including reforming the restitution system to ensure offenders repay victims for financial losses caused by their crimes.
The governor recently announced $46 million dollars in grants to directly aid victims of crime, which fully funded all eligible requests from victims’ service providers across the state. In April 2016, the Hogan administration convened the first-ever governor’s statewide Victim Services Conference to share best practices and resources among victims’ service providers.
The Governor’s Office of Crime Control & Prevention has also joined with the Office of the Attorney General to survey 135 law enforcement agencies on the handling of sexual assault evidence kits in an effort ensure that justice is served in every case of sexual assault.
Governor Hogan’s Justice for Victims Initiative includes:
Repeat Sexual Predator Prevention Act of 2017: Governor Hogan announced this bipartisan measure, modeled after legislation put forward by Senator Brochin during the 2016 legislative session, which will allow courts to admit evidence of a defendant’s prior history of sexual assault convictions during prosecution for subsequent sexual offenses. Data shows that many sexual predators follow patterns of behavior, and this proposal will ensure that prosecutors have the tools needed to bring these criminals to justice.
Protecting Victims of Sex Trafficking Act of 2017: This proposed legislation will further define sexual abuse to include sex trafficking, regardless of whether the sexual abuse was committed by a parent or any other person who has responsibility for supervision of a child. Current law requires local agencies to have evidence of an alleged offender’s relationship to a victim in order for law enforcement to investigate – this legislation will give authorities the ability to more effectively prosecute sex traffickers.
Transitional Housing Assistance Program: Governor Hogan announced that the administration is directing up to $5 million in new funding resources to provide up to one year of transitional housing assistance for victims of crime, many of whom face homelessness as a result of becoming isolated from support networks. This program will be coordinated by the Governor’s Office of Crime Control & Prevention, the Maryland Department of Human Resources, and the Maryland Department of Housing & Community Development.
Repeat Drunk Driving Offenders Act of 2017: During the 2016 legislative session, Governor Hogan signed “Noah’s Law,” which requires ignition interlock devices for anyone convicted of drunk driving in Maryland. The proposal announced today would make drunk driving a felony offense for those with three or more prior convictions, as well as for any offender convicted of causing a death or a life-threatening injury on a second or subsequent offense. Impaired driving crashes account for one-third of all traffic-related fatalities in the state, but the current maximum sentence is three years in prison, regardless of repeat offenses.