Clarence Shipley spent 27 years in prison for a Baltimore murder he did not commit based on testimony from a jailhouse witness who claimed he saw Shipley with the weapon. Years later, the jailhouse witness admitted that he lied in exchange for reduced car theft charges—a deal that was not disclosed to Shipley’s attorney. In December 2018, Shipley was exonerated as the result of a collaboration between Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby and the University of Baltimore Innocence Clinic.
Maryland recently passed a new law, sponsored by Delegate Debra Davis (D-Charles) and Senator Will Smith (D-Montgomery), that will protect innocent people like Clarence Shipley against false incentivized testimony. The state will become the second in the country to establish a statewide jailhouse witness tracking system, after Connecticut passed the first law of its kind last year.
A broad coalition advocated for the measure including Maryland exonerees Demetrius Smith, Eric Simmons, Walter Lomax, Alfred Chestnut, Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, UNITE HERE Local 25, ACLU of Maryland, Maryland Criminal Defense Attorneys’ Association, Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project and UB Innocence Clinic.
The new law enhances transparency so that prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and juries have a more complete picture of a jailhouse witness’s motivations and reliability. Specifically the law:
- Creates a statewide tracking system through the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention (GOCAP) for State’s Attorneys to report cases involving jailhouse witness testimony and the benefits that were provided. This will allow prosecutors to see the jailhouse witness’ record of providing incentivized testimony in other jurisdictions before putting them on the stand.
- Requires prosecutors to disclose specific jailhouse witness evidence to the defense, including information tracked in the statewide system.
- Allows defense attorneys to request hearings for a judge to enforce disclosure requirements.
- Requires notification to victims of jailhouse witnesses’ crimes if leniency is offered for their testimony.