Maryland lawmakers vote to broaden hate crime law

Lawmakers in the Maryland House of Delegates have been considering the safety commission legislation, but as of Monday night there was no such bill in the Senate. (AP/Patrick Semansky)

WASHINGTON —  Maryland lawmakers overwhelmingly approved changes to the state’s hate crime law on Saturday that will broaden its ability to be used by prosecutors.

The change comes days after a series of racially charged incidents at Chesapeake High School in Pasadena, Maryland, but it’s an incident at another Anne Arundel County school last year that’s the reason for the change.

In May 2017, two teenagers were arrested on several charges, including the state’s hate crime statute, after they hung a noose at Crofton Middle School.

While one teen pleaded guilty, the other tried to fight the charges and was ultimately acquitted of the hate crime statute.

“The judge said, that the law as it was currently worded, was vague,” testified State Senator John Astle earlier this year.

Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney Wes Adams, who also testified in favor of SB 528 said he was personally involved in the prosecution of the case. He told lawmakers that he argued that the judge was interpreting the law incorrectly, but said the judge pointed out the wording makes clear “because of another’s race you cannot commit a crime against that person.”

“The way the noose was hung and the message that it was — the way it was delivered, it was not particularly identified to a single African-American student, teacher or staff,” Adams told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee about the Crofton incident.

“The judge believed that the statute had to be — that you could only commit a crime directly against a particular human being.”

If the legislation becomes law, the new wording would prohibit certain acts against “another person or group” because of identifiers like race, religion, or sexual orientation.

It passed unanimously in the Senate last month, and cleared the House of Delegates 129-4 on Saturday.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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