From Sen. J.B. Jennings:
With all of the political strife these days over partisan political agendas, it is easy to lose faith in our elected officials and in our government. But in the true American way, when all hope seems to be lost, a glimmering moment can pierce through the cynicism to restore our broken confidence. While the so-called leaders who are full of hot air have failed us, I have been inspired by an everyday Maryland citizen. This is her story:
In 2010, a former constituent of mine, Christine, appeared before the Baltimore County District Court as a crime victim. She was stalked and harassed by her neighbor, who had a ten-year criminal history that included drug possession and first and second degree assault convictions. The case was originally before the District Court because the defendant was charged with stalking, a misdemeanor under Maryland Law. The offender requested a jury trial, and the case was transferred to Baltimore County Circuit Court. After pleading guilty to the charge, the judge sentenced him to five years in prison with all but 13 months suspended in a state correctional facility, and four years’ probation. Less than three months after the court’s sentencing, the offender was released on home detentions and his probation was reduced to just one year.
Christine feared for her safety. A friend referred her to Maryland VINE (Victim Information & Notification Everyday). Maryland VINE (offered by the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention), is an innovative service providing crime victims, victim advocates, and concerned citizens free offender information and confidential notifications on: District and Circuit Court criminal court case hearings; an inmate’s release, transfer or escape from all city, county, and state jails and facilities; individuals under the supervision of the Maryland Division of Probation and Parole; and sex offender’s compliance status.
This free public service was the only means she had to receive information about her stalker’s release. But by law, the State did not provide information on Maryland VINE for cases originating in District Court, only those originating in Circuit Court. Since Christine’s case had begun in District Court, she did not have access to potentially life-saving information. And to prevent harmful retaliation against her for her stalker’s incarceration, Christine was forced to start a new life.
Exasperated, she reached out to my office and other legislators in an effort to change the current law. In the months that followed her initial plea for assistance, my office began working on legislation to ensure that the state provided a crime victim (or a victim’s representative), information about the Maryland VINE program in cases originating in District Court. Since Maryland VINE is so vital to crime victims and to the general public, I introduced Senate Bill 411 during the 2012 General Session.
This bill received support from various groups such as: The Maryland Crime Victims’ Resource Center, The Maryland State’s Attorney’s Association, the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention, Maryland Victim Services, State’s Attorney’s Office for Baltimore County, and Governor Martin O’Malley. With such support, it appeared that the bill would become new law this year. Unfortunately, the bill failed to receive a vote in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and therefore was not considered by the General Assembly. Supporters and I were extremely discouraged by the bill’s fate; it appeared that political bureaucracy and the “process” would fail our citizens once again.
More devastating than the realization that our efforts fell short was sharing this news with Christine. Determined to ensure that this was not going to be the final outcome, Christine and my office once again reached out to our supporters for help. In the final days of Session, I received unexpected news from a Maryland Victim Services Coordinator in the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention. She informed me that the office had submitted a modification to an existing federal grant that is scheduled to end on June 30th. According to the coordinator, the Federal Grant Program Manager stated that they would support the proposed modification to extend the program to cases originating in District Court.
On April 4, 2012, the following VINE synopsis was submitted to the District Courts for printing consideration on all District Court generated subpoenas and letters of notification to witnesses:
Want to know when an offender is released from jail, has an upcoming court hearing, or has changes to his/her parole or probation?
Call VINE for information or to sign up for free phone or email alerts!
Toll Free (866) 634-8463 TTY (866) 847-1298 www.vinelink.com
In less than 48-hours of receiving this news, I was informed that this language had been approved for all District Court witness documents. It will be fully implemented by June 30, 2012. And best of all, this language will continue to be used regardless of whether the Federal grant renewed.
Through the collected efforts of The Maryland Crime Victims’ Resource Center, The Maryland State’s Attorney’s Association, the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention, Maryland Victim Service, my office, and Christine, this new change was implemented.
Ultimately, had it not been for the courageous actions of one person – Christine, then this “loophole” in Maryland law would not have ensured that all victims, in both Circuit and District Court criminal cases, receive notification of the important VINE service. Christine’s unfortunate circumstance enabled our branches of government to make improved rights for crime victims in the State of Maryland a reality.
Christine made a difference in the lives of crime victims and many others in our state because she stood up for something that she firmly believed was right and just. Her persistence required that government get creative to make things right. I was proud to play a small role in helping her cut through the red tape. I share this as a reminder to all Marylanders, myself included, that one person can save the lives of others and make our government change for the betterment of all.
Thank you, Christine.
Senator J.B. Jennings
7th Legislative District