WV Senate passes bill to keep defendant identities secret - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

WV Senate passes bill to keep defendant identities secret

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UPDATE:

The Senate recalled its vote on House Bill 2498 after some senators said they had second thoughts.

"I voted with the senator from Mingo (Sen. Truman Chafin) after hearing his very compelling and persuasive argument," said Sen. Donald Cookman, D-Hampshire. "… I was very impressed with it and voted with him on that. On further reflection however, I looked at the bill and this doesn't just cover people who divulge the names of people who are indicted, it covers anything that is said in the grand jury room, which is a secret proceeding and it provides a penalty, as was indicated by (Sen. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha) I think provides a fine of up to $1,000 and jail sentence of up to 30 days, which I believe is more than what a judge can do on a contempt proceeding. I believe this is good legislation, and it could be needed in certain situations."

Delegate Justin Marcum, D-Mingo, sponsored the bill and said he was happy the Senate reconsidered its actions. The Senate passed the bill 31-3 with Sens. Chafin, Daniel Hall, D-Wyoming; and Mark Green, D-Raleigh, voting against.

 

ORIGINAL STORY:

 

A bill that would prohibit people serving on a grand jury from disclosing the identity of people facing indictment does not have the support of the West Virginia Senate.

House Bill 2498, sponsored by Delegate Justin Marcum, D-Mingo, failed the Senate 9-25 on the last day of the session, just two weeks after it unanimously passed the House of Delegates. Sen. Truman Chafin, D-Mingo, stood in the Senate to speak against the bill, which Marcum said he sponsored at the request of former Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum. Crum was gunned down in his vehicle April 3.

Now, Marcum is upset that what he calls a good bill won't pass the Legislature this session.

"It defines a way to ensure our system is functioning correctly," he said of the bill. "To hear that this bill should just be thrown in the floor appalls me."

Marcum said Crum requested the legislation because a member of the grand jury in Mingo County was tipping off defendants who were going to be indicted. Those defendants, mostly drug dealers, fled to Columbus, Detroit or Kentucky. Not only did this bill prevent that from happening, Marcum said, but it also protected evidence, ensured law enforcement safety and keeps grand jury proceedings secretive, as they're supposed to be according to state code.

But Chafin said on the Senate floor that it's hard to sit in a courtroom all day and not want to talk about what you saw or heard.  He also was opposed to such the $1,000 fee for even the slightest slip-up, even to a family member. Marcum said those ideas are ridiculous.

"I'm appalled someone would take the floor on a bill like this and defeat it for personal reasons," he said. "This is a good bill that was supported and passed the House I think 98-0. It's crazy someone would stand up to speak against this and I'm very upset."

Marcum said he plans to reintroduce similar legislation next year in an effort to defeat the growing drug problem in Southern West Virginia.

"It will be on next year I assure you," he said. "It will be back on and we will get to the bottom of this and make sure we continue to fight against drugs in West Virginia."