ANNAPOLIS – Several new state laws calling for tougher sentencing of sex offenders who drug their victims and stricter restrictions on handguns become effective today, including ballistics fingerprinting for all new guns and mandatory sentencing for firearm violations.
Signed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening in May, a new rape law mandates a maximum penalty of one year imprisonment and a $1,500 fine for anyone convicted of drugging someone without their knowledge and then committing a sexual offense against them.
The law is a sentencing enhancement that can be added to punishment for other crimes, including rape. Alcohol is not included as a drug in the law.
Drug-induced rape is often associated with the drugs gamma- hydroxybutyrate, or GHB, and Rohypnol, also known as “roofies.” Ten times as powerful as Valium, Rohypnol can easily be slipped into someone’s drink and cause them to pass out in less than an hour, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Several other states – including Florida, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and the District of Columbia – and the federal government have similar laws to Maryland’s, said Diane Moyer of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Under federal law, the Drug Induced Rape Prevention and Punishment Act of 1996 imposed a maximum 20-year punishment and specifically punished the use of Rohypnol. Federal rape cases, however, are rarely prosecuted for jurisdictional reasons.
Victims of such crimes often lose their memory of assaults, making prosecution difficult. Colorado and Kansas, among other states, designate drugging as a crime in itself.
Susan Smith Howley of the National Center for Victims of Crime said Maryland should consider such laws, since they do not require proof of rape.
“I hope this is just the first step for the Maryland Legislature,” she said.
Many states, Howley said, are experimenting with different approaches.
But Karen Hartz, executive director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Abuse, said regardless of its effectiveness, the law will empower victims.
“(It’s) a motivator for women who truly believe that they’ve been raped and know the offenders,” she said. “It’s a motivator for them to press charges and to go forth with prosecution.”
Another law taking effect today is the controversial Responsible Gun Safety Act of 2000, which requires all guns sold come with trigger locks. It also mandates sending shell casings from new guns sold to state police for ballistics fingerprinting.
Beginning in 2002, all purchasers of firearms must also pass a free training course on gun safety. Guns sold in 2003 must be equipped with built-in safety devices.
The new gun laws, which passed after a furious battle between gun control and gun rights advocates, also impose strict punishments aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of criminals.
The gun safety law also includes provisions similar to Virginia’s “Project Exile.” Maryland’s law imposes a mandatory minimum sentence of five years imprisonment for anyone with a prior felony convicted of possessing an illegal firearm. Anyone with a criminal record as a juvenile is banned from purchasing a firearm until the age of 30.
President Clinton and gun-contol group Handgun Control, Inc. have praised the plan as the most comprehensive in the country, while gun rights advocates called it ineffective and unconstitutional.
Other new crime laws go into effect this week:
– Computer “hacking,” stealing computerized information valued at $10,000, is now a felony punishable by a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment or a $10,000 fine.
– The value of property covered under criminal theft, robbery, destruction of property, obtaining property or services by bad check, credit card offenses, and xtortion increases to $500 from $300.
– The identities of violent sexual predators will be listed for life rather than just 10 years, complying with federal reporting requirements.