Without a dissenting vote, the Maryland House and Senate this session passed what’s become known as Justice’s Law, a measure that increases the maximum penalty for child abuse resulting in death from 30 years to 40 years.
The bill was signed this week by Gov. Martin O’Malley, completing what has been a four-year journey for the legislation, which was a reaction to the shaking death of 4-month-old Justice Myers-Cannon in Washington County in 2007.
Originally the bill called for a maximum penalty of life in prison, a point on which the General Assembly did not agree.
A maximum sentence that adds just 10 years to existing law might be more symbolic than substantial, but it is meaningful symbolism.
Some child abuse is malicious to be sure, and for this, no sentence can be long enough. But some abuse is borne out of frustration and ignorance, foisted on young innocents by adults who are not equipped to be parents or guardians.
For them, education might be more of a deterrent than threats of incarceration. They need to know that shaking is no answer for a crying baby; it is not within an infant’s capacity to understand that shaking means “stop it.” And adults need to understand that a baby is terribly fragile — shaking can be, and all too often is, fatal.
These lessons might seem like no-brainers to most thinking adults, but obviously there are some out there who do not have the maturity or knowledge that it takes to be around a small child. If they can be reached before tragedy strikes, not one life will be saved, but two.
So we congratulate the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Chris Shank, for sticking with it over the years and bringing about a piece of legislation that both tightens sentencing and raises awareness for one of society’s more horrific problems.