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February 28, 2006

Scrubbing clean criminal history

The Baltimore Sun has this fascinating article about defendants in Maryland using a state law procedure to wipe prior state convictions off their records so that these convictions will not impact future federal sentencings.  Here's a taste:

Years after a defendant walks out of prison, state law allows a judge to reopen the case and throw out a conviction on a technicality.  For [some] convicted criminals in Maryland identified by The Sun, the defense strategy could drastically reduce their prison sentences in federal court.

Tossing out state convictions has deeply troubled federal prosecutors.  In federal court, sentencing guidelines are based in large part on the length and severity of a defendant's criminal record.  When state convictions disappear, so does eligibility for some of the harshest federal penalties, including mandatory life sentences. 

Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein plans to ask state prosecutors at a meeting next month to fight these motions, known as writs of error coram nobis.  "There has to be some finality," Rosenstein said.... Rosenstein confirmed that in some plea agreements, prosecutors are now requiring defendants to pledge that they won't go back and try to change their criminal history before sentencing....

"All too often, with the resource problems in the courts, there are unconstitutional convictions on our clients' records," Maryland federal public defender James Wyda said. "To complain about challenging a prior unconstitutional conviction that now serves to double a federal sentence to me is to complain about too much justice."

February 28, 2006 at 07:16 AM | Permalink


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Why does a federal prosecutor care about state finality? While, of course a state’s interest in finality should be respected by federal courts in, say, the habeas context, if a state chooses to have little or no finality accorded to its criminal convictions, that is the way it is. It seems this prosecutor just wants to make it easier to for him to put people away and reduce the number of things he actually has to prove.

Posted by: anon | Feb 28, 2006 9:12:27 AM

is it notpossible thatprevious conictions is
violations of human rights

Posted by: fabian | Mar 24, 2006 2:14:01 AM

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