In 2012, The Maryland Supreme Court ruled that anyone who was tried by a jury before 1980 deserved a new trial due to the improper instructions judges gave to juries. According to the Unger decision, judges failed to properly explain to juries that prosecutors have to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and that defendants are innocent until proven guilty.
However, because of the time that has passed since the defendants’ first trials, it will be difficult to retry them since witnesses have moved or died and evidence has been destroyed, as well. Several counties are forgoing new trials and are just giving prisoners their freedom.
Becky Feldman, an attorney with the Maryland Office of the Public Defender, stated that this ruling has been billed “as the largest and most important case in the history of Maryland post-conviction law.” Feldman along with other public defenders, are helping prisoners who are affected by the court’s decision.
As of November 27, approximately fifty people statewide have been freed, and another 200 more may be released from Maryland prisons because of this decision.
Baltimore’s head prosecutor said that his office is reviewing each case individually….and is weighing whether or not an individual can be retried as well as weighing whether a prisoner poses a threat to public safety.
Those prisoners who have been released appreciate that they have been given a second chance at life and also say that they have changed since they were imprisoned many years ago. One such prisoner, Kareem Hasan, who was imprisoned at the age of seventeen after being convicted in the fatal shooting of a man during a robbery, was released in May and is now working at a wastewater treatment plant. He stated that he wants a chance to “show that we are not animals.”
There are those, however, who are not pleased with the release of prisoners, some of whom were convicted of murder, rape and robbery. One woman who was thirteen-years-old in 1969 when her father was killed by one of the recently released prisoners, said that she felt sick, “like I lost my father all over again.”
The top prosecutor of Anne Arundel County, Anne Colt Leitess, stated that she has cases affected by the Unger decision, and said that she does not plan on making any agreements…”we are not willing to allow people convicted of murder to simply walk out the door without a fight.”
Complete story found here.