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Right on Crime | March 16, 2016
Imagine being the victim of a heinous crime and having no other witnesses to the act. Now imagine that no court could hear your testimony. That is the real life story of one woman in Maryland.
She was in an abusive and violent relationship. In order to protect herself, the woman attempted to petition for a restraining order against her abuser. With no other witnesses to the event, the woman’s testimony would be integral to her own safety.
However, she was not allowed to testify because Maryland is one of only three states (besides Mississippi and Alabama) that bars convicted perjurers from ever subsequently testifying.
Years prior, she was convicted of perjury for committing welfare fraud. Perjury in Maryland is broadly defined and not only entails lying on the stand in a court of law, but also lying on official forms such as disclosure forms, state ethics forms, and forms used for applying for welfare.
Because of the private nature of the domestic abuse, it was impossible for her to get the justice she deserved without her testimony.
The thought behind the lifetime ban on testifying has two reasons. First, the lifetime ban emphasizes the paramount nature for people to tell the truth in a court of law. Second, to ensure judges and juries only make their decisions based upon reliable evidence and testimony. However, in the other 47 states, the fact that someone has been convicted of perjury would be considered relevant to their truthfulness on the stand and could be used to impeach them as a witness. It would be up to the judges and juries to determine whether this fact undermines their .
Moreover, a lifetime ban on testifying can create situations in which a serious, persistent criminal might go free. In comparison, someone who has been convicted of murder or rape is not banned for life from testifying in court.
However, change may be coming soon. Currently, Senate Bill 150 is under consideration in the Maryland House of Representatives after being unanimously passed by the Senate in February. The bill would allow the testimony of a witness convicted of perjury who is also the victim. To protect the integrity of the legal procedure, the evidence that a witness has been convicted for perjury is allowed to be admitted for the purpose of attacking the credibility of the witness.
The Maryland House of Representatives would do well to consider correcting the legal pitfall established under current law.
Victims will get their chance to participate and speak on behalf of their own case. It will avoid the further re-victimizing of people convicted of perjury. With tools such as cross-examination and being able to use the conviction to question the credibility of the witness, there are enough safeguards in place to assure the integrity of the court.