Md. bill aims to ease process of charging those who threaten schools

This April 8, 2014 photo shows the Maryland State House dome standing above buildings in Annapolis. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)(AP/Patrick Semansky)

WASHINGTON — Maryland has seen a dramatic spike in threats of mass violence against schools ever since the deadly mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. Now, a bill introduced in the state Senate on Thursday seeks to make it easier for prosecutors to go after people behind such threats.

The bill would be used in determining charges for cases revolving around threats of mass violence. It would also provide increased penalties if the threats are made against children or places where children gather, such as schools.

Current law requires proof that at least five people were in fear of a threat in order to prosecute. If authorities can’t find that many people, they must show that a school was evacuated or that students were forced to shelter in place before moving forward with charges.

Calvert County Deputy State’s Attorney Kathryn Marsh told the Senate Judicial Committee that the law has “hampered” cases they’ve handled.

The Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Susan Lee, of Montgomery County, would make the threat itself enough for prosecutors to act in the case.

“We feel that this is a very important bill and we would like to also amend it to an emergency bill so we can implement these protections before the end of the school year,” Lee said.

Ricardo Flores, with the Maryland Office of the Public Defender, opposes changing this law, arguing that the current law helps the courts establish true threats versus fake ones.

“I don’t think it’s overly burdensome to try to establish the fact that a number of people were in fact put in fear,” Flores said.

Howard County Deputy State’s Attorney Kim Oldham argued that not every intended target of a threat may know about a threat against them.

“We can do something as opposed to waiting and allowing these threats to continue to happen at our schools,” Oldham said.

The bill also would allow prosecutors to go after suspects who had brought a knife or other weapon to a school in the same way they treat cases revolving around handguns.

It would also raise the maximum sentence for bringing any weapon to school to 10 years in prison. Right now, someone caught with any weapon other than handgun, including another kind of firearm, at a school can face a maximum sentence of three years in prison.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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