MEDIA RELEASE Contact: Sandra Sanna-Buckles
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Public Relations Specialist
March 28, 2023 240-335-4037
VICTIMS’ LAWSUIT AGAINST MARYLAND PAROLE COMISSION ENSURES VICTIMS VOICES ARE HEARD
LA PLATA, MD – Victims of crime and their survivors established as part of Maryland’s “law of the land” to have their voices heard and to be treated with respect and dignity decades ago, but a new regulation enacted by the Maryland Parole Commission threatened to silence those voices and take away those rights.
In 2021, the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services and the Parole Commission adopted a regulation that would quiet the voices of victims. The regulation in question states that after an initial parole hearing, the circumstances of the crime have a “diminished significance” on the parole commissioners’ decisions for parole. In other words, the seriousness and even brutality of the crime would be considered less, and the record of the offender in prison and rehabilitation would count more. For example, the offender could have tortured their victim, and there may have been multiple victims, but those facts would be of lesser importance. MCVRC worked swiftly to file an official complaint in April 2022.
Although state agencies have authority that allows them to declare their own rules and regulations, the regulations created must remain consistent and not conflict with any existing statutes. The existing statute under § 7-305 states the commission must consider eleven (11) factors to make decisions of each individual case for parole. Three of these factors pertain to victim impact including: 1. an updated victim impact statement or recommendation, 2. any information that is presented to a commissioner at a meeting with the victim, and 3. any testimony presented to the Commission by the victim or victims’ designated representative. These, along with the other 8 factors are weighed against each other to provide a holistic approach to the parole decision. MCVRC argued that the Parole Commission was not free to “de-emphasize” any of the eleven factors. Such a change was the sole responsibility of the legislature, and Judge Monise Brown agreed.
Since the regulation in question contradicts the existing statute, the Judge Brown deemed it was “outside of the scope of the Parole Commission’s delegated legislative power and therefore is not a valid exercise of the Parole Commission’s rulemaking authority”. The findings of this case were released in the attached Opinion and Order of the Court. Kurt Wolfgang, Executive Director of MCVRC states “This decision invalidates the Parole Commission regulation that de-emphasized the circumstances of the original crime in determining parole release after the first parole hearing. We do not know yet whether the Attorney General’s office will appeal this to the Appellate Court, but for the present, Judge Brown’s decision is law. We are very pleased to have struck another blow in favor of crime victims. This is our forty-first year of doing so, and this case ranks among our many great accomplishments for the rights of crime victims.”