- The Washington Times - Monday, December 1, 2003

Maryland state lawmakers said yesterday they would act on a resolution that appears headed for the General Assembly to further protect witnesses in court cases.

“I want to pursue it,” said Delegate Herbert H. McMillan, Anne Arundel Republican. “Obviously, we all want to protect witnesses.”

However, Mr. McMillan, a member of the Judiciary Committee that would review the state law, said he also wants to ensure the legislation will actually improve the protection of witnesses.

Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer drafted the resolution, which mandates that the courts “protect the identification of witnesses prior to trial or juvenile adjudicatory hearing.”

She drafted the resolution because a constituent was named by the news media as a witness in a murder trial in which the two suspects were later released.

The resolution, which will be presented first to the City Council for a vote next Monday, specifically asks that the news media be barred from reporting the names of witnesses.

Delegate Curt Anderson, Baltimore Democrat and member of the Judiciary Committee, said he also was interested in the resolution. “I would support and maybe present a bill that would require the police to tell the [witness] of a crime that they have a right not to have their name revealed until the appropriate time before the trail,” he said.

Six of the 22members of the Judiciary Committee supported a review.

Delegate Anthony G. Brown, Prince George’s Democrat and committee vice chairman, was also among the supporters.

“If there are cases in which protecting a witness includes withholding their identity from the public, then judges should use those tools,” he said.

Delegate Pauline H. Menes, Anne Arundel and Prince George’sDemocrat and committee member, said, “I certainly am concerned about witnesses being intimidated, that is something we need to hear about from the prosecutors.”

Delegate Susan C. Lee, Montgomery County Democratic and committee member, said, “We should always protect our witnesses. The real question is what is the bill in the General Assembly going to look like?”

Delegate Kevin Kelly, Allegany Democrat and committee member, supported a review but said the change will not keep witnesses’ names from the accused, who are the ones most likely to intimidate. “Does this really scratch the itch?” he asked.

Mrs. Moyer said the woman who witnessed the murder of an Annapolis businessman during a carjacking was exposed by a local media outlet and is “in fear of her life” and “ready to close her business and leave the area.”

The suspects were released due to a loophole in the law after admitting to the crime. One suspect is again in custody.

Kelly McBride, ethics faculty for the Poynter Institute, a school for journalists, said there “is already a precedent” for the law, with many jurisdictions already withholding witnesses’ names in juvenile and rape cases.

“It is not unusual,” Ms. McBride said. “It is unfortunate; it makes reporting a lot harder. Ideally it would be great if it were all public and the media acted responsibly and did not jeopardize witnesses.”

Now, the phone number and home address of witnesses in Maryland can be stricken from court files as long as they ask for confidentiality, but their names can be released.

There are no reports on the number of cases that have been dismissed due to witness intimidation. However, problems in Baltimore are so prevalent that authorities have failed to prosecute 60 percent of city cases. Twelve cases were dropped in October alone.


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