Maryland House passes bill on violence before a minor

The House of Delegates has passed a measure to increase penalties for someone who commits a crime of violence in front of a minor.

The House approved the bill 132-0 on Monday. It would apply to people who commit a violent crime in front of a minor who is at least 2-years-old and younger than 16.

The measure is the top legislative priority of Attorney General Doug Gansler.

Under the bill, a person would be eligible to up to five years additional imprisonment for committing a violent crime before a minor.

After five years at the Montgomery County Family Justice Center, Dolores Briceno has seen the long-term effects of domestic violence first hand.

"There are two different categories with the kids. It's either you have a child who is timid or a little bit more aggressive," Briceno explained.

Dozens of studies on child development have shown that viewing or hearing domestic violence can have a long and devastating effect on a child. Experts point to cases like Jeremiah Sweeney, who was convicted of murder in 2010 and is now serving a life sentence

Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy says even if children aren't physically harmed, they are victims.

"When there are domestic violence acts that occur and there are children in the home, there are two victims, and we want the law to reflect that," McCarthy explained. "...and we want there to be a penalty for violent acts in front of children."

The measure now goes to the Senate.

Briceno hopes the tougher laws will help stop violent crimes in the home.

She adds, "Because at the end of the day, I don't think any child wants to see anyone in the household be mean or aggressive to them or anyone else in the household."