Baltimore Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog
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lock-218505_640No jail or prison facility in the country should have a reputation. They should rarely appear in the news or be the topic of discussion. Rather, they should be like the best referees in football or the top umpires in baseball, who are seen but seldom heard from or remembered. The Baltimore City Detention Center it just the opposite, and has a terrible reputation as a dangerous and dirty facility that dates back almost 100 years. The facility survived calls for its closure in the 1930’s due to being outdated and unfit for living. There were riots at the jail in the 70’s, overcrowding which led to an unprecedented state takeover in the 90’s, and massive corruption over the last decade that led to 40 federal convictions of guards and inmates for drug distribution and racketeering from within the facility. And throughout these troubled times there were hundreds of complaints and lawsuits from inmates and the ACLU describing uninhabitable conditions. Yet the facility continued to remain open for business, and accepted defendants awaiting trial or sentenced to less than 18 months right up until last week when Governor Hogan decided to put an end to the disgrace that was the BCDC.

 

In a surprising and dramatic move, Hogan recently announced to reporters from a podium along Eager Street that he was closing the city jail immediately. The governor explained he would no longer allow the shamed facility to be a “black eye” upon the state, and scorned his predecessor for doing nothing to fix the longstanding problem. Some one thousand inmates will be moved to other jail facilities, which the governor described has having more than enough space. Defendants awaiting trial will likely stay at facilities within the city limits, while those already sentenced could be moved to nearby counties. Corrections officers and staff will be reassigned to other posts. Hogan definitively stated that the jail will not be rebuilt or refurbished, but will be torn down with no specific plan for the future of the site. The closure will save Maryland taxpayers roughly 10 to 15 million dollars per year, and effectively axe a half billion-dollar proposal from 2013 to rebuild a new jail at the same downtown location. More importantly it will put an end to an embarrassing run of corruption and maltreatment that became the standard at the jail.  As of today most of the inmates still remain at the BCDC, but as many as 50 have bee transferred out and all should be moved within the next couple of weeks.

 

The closure is welcome news for friends and family of the inmates, and for their defense attorneys who were constantly reminded of the horrendous living conditions. While the inmates clearly suffered the most, even visiting the jail was a frustrating and uncomfortable process. Governor Hogan knew this, and rather than meet, discuss, and stall with lawmakers he took immediate action and did what needed to be done. Some lawmakers expressed displeasure with Hogan’s failure to consider a ten-year plan to revamp the facility that was recommended by a legislative commission. Not surprisingly it was the democratic lawmakers who voiced the public displeasure. These detractors politicized something that has absolutely nothing to do with politics, and their issue was likely the fact a leader from a different party overruled them. The city detention center was an absolute disgrace on all levels, and shuttering its doors for good was action that should have been taken years ago.

 

Benjamin Herbst is a criminal defense attorney who handles cases ranging from DUI to armed robbery.  He represents clients in all Maryland state and federal jurisdictions, and is available 7 days a week for a free consultation.

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police-780322_640During the off-season Ocean City is a quiet beach town with a population of around ten thousand residents, and relatively low police activity. In the summer months though the town transforms into a bustling city of over 300,000. Most of the summer visitors come with family to enjoy Maryland’s famous 10-mile stretch of beach, but there’s also the crowd that comes with a different purpose. The nightlife along coastal highway is enough motivation for many to brave the Route 50 speed traps, or the stop and go traffic coming from Pennsylvania down through Delaware. As is usually the case, packed bars and party hungry tourists attract the attention of police officers. Some officers are simply out there to keep the peace, but others are hungry for some police action. The 100 plus “seasonal” officers that the town of Ocean City employs each summer to supplement the regular force would probably fall into the latter category. Thousands of partygoers plus an increased law enforcement presence makes it hardly a surprise that the OC Police recently conducted a major undercover drug operation.

 

The undercover drug operation lasted throughout June and yielded 37 arrests. There were 23 controlled drug transactions between cops and unsuspecting dealers, which were used as evidence for distribution charges and other CDS offenses. Police also seized physical evidence including marijuana, cocaine, firearms and cash. Almost all of the defendants are from Maryland, though a few are Pennsylvania residents, and 6 of the 37 were arrested and charged as juveniles. The adult defendants range in age from 18 all the way to 46, but most are 23 or younger. All but three of the adults are facing felony charges that will likely be set for preliminary hearings in the Ocean City District Court sometime in August. Most of these cases will then be indicted or filed in the Worcester County Circuit Court over the next few weeks. Two of the cases are misdemeanor weapons charges and one is a disorderly conduct, which could be handled in the district court right in town.

 

This is definitely not the first, and will not be the last time Ocean City Police put together an organized undercover drug operation. Each summer there are dozens of drug arrests that involve an undercover cop posing as a party going tourist looking to get high. Most of these controlled deals involve a team of around four officers. One or two are usually dressed in street clothes, while another couple are watching or recording from a police car. The cops posing as potential buyers will typically meet their suspects in crowded areas such as the boardwalk, and then lure them onto the side streets to complete the deal. After the transaction is finished the uniformed officers will then jump out to make the arrest. In some instances police will not make an arrest right away, but will wait until the entire operation is over so as not to jeopardize the identity of the undercovers. But these situations are usually reserved for known dealers, and require a more patient approach that might not be practical to law enforcement in a tourist town. The Blog will follow these cases as they progress through the county courts, and may post a follow up article if necessary.

 

Benjamin Herbst is a drug distribution lawyer who handles all criminal charges in Maryland, including wearing or carrying a handgun and disorderly conduct. Contact Benjamin anytime for a free consultation about your case at 410-207-2598.

 

Resources

 

OCPD arrest 37 in buy-bust drug operation, wmdt.com.

 

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seal-42280_640The U.S. Attorney’s Office recently announced the indictments of more than a dozen defendants involved in a large-scale theft ring in Prince George’s County, Montgomery County, the Washington D.C. metro area. This particular criminal organization has apparently been in operation since 2009, and is allegedly responsible for the theft of over $5 million worth of cars, cash, jewelry, and electronics. The FBI has reportedly linked over 100 auto thefts to the group, as well as the looting of multiple ATMs. The group also stole personal identification information such as credit card numbers, and would sell or fraudulently use the information. Seven of the defendants were arrested during search warrants carried out by state, local, and federal law enforcement officers. In total 140 cops were involved in executing the eleven search warrants in the racketeering conspiracy. Two of the defendants were already in custody on other charges, while five remain at large, with $5,000 rewards being offered for information leading to their arrest.

 

The indictments were recently unsealed, and now details of the crime ring’s inner workings has been revealed to the public. Among the groups tactics were stealing cars while they were unlocked at gas stations, outside of homes, and even at cemeteries. Group members would then use the stolen vehicles to commit other crimes such as robbery and burglary. In fact a recent robbery of a couple at a cemetery has been linked to members of the group. Information obtained in the investigation, headed up by the Baltimore office of the FBI, revealed that the group would regularly meet to discuss new ideas to carry out thefts and other crimes. As is typical of these investigations, law enforcement officers recovered numerous incriminating text messages and social media posts between group members. In some conversations defendants discuss the sale of stolen cars and guns, with at least one conversation including a picture of stolen firearms. These conversations are all fair game for use at trial, and will likely allow federal prosecutors to make easy work of many of the cases.

 

Each indicted member of the theft ring faces multiple felony counts in federal court, and most of the counts are punishable by up to 20 years in prison. The cases will be prosecuted at the United States District Court in Greenbelt, and while there are no trial dates as of yet, it’s likely that many of the members will enter into plea agreements with the government over the next few months. As is usually the case in multi defendant conspiracy prosecutions, the first handful to plea will likely receive the best offers. The defendants range in age from as young as 22 to as old as 54, so they will likely have varying degrees of criminal records. Defendants with numerous prior convictions will undoubtedly face the harshest sentences, and may find it difficult to obtain a reasonable plea deal. The younger defendants may be enticed into taking a deal with the caveat that they would have to testify against other members if the cases were to go to trial. What started out as a close-knit ring could easily turn into a situation where every man is just looking out for himself. The Blog will follow the progress of these cases, and we may post a follow up article of some interesting news comes out of the courthouse.

 

Benjamin Herbst is a Maryland theft attorney who also handles robbery, burglary, and various gun crimes. Contact Benjamin to speak about your case at anytime.

Resources

$5M ‘Simple City’ Theft Ring Shut Down in Md., Police Say, nbcwashington.com.

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police-224426_640Not that they deserve one, but the Baltimore Police               Department cannot catch a break. After months of negative publicity surrounding the death of Freddie Gray, dozens of new accusations of police brutality, spiking crime rates, and allegations of lack of leadership that led to the firing of their top cop, the department is back in the news. This time the news is for an incident that happened five years ago, but these days any tidbit of information about cops in Maryland’s largest city will make headlines. Back 2010 a federal department of defense employee was arrested for violating the city’s loitering law, when he allegedly refused to enter a Baltimore Street business or keep walking. Although prosecutors eventually dropped the charges, and the criminal case has since been expunged, the man spent 12 hours in jail and missed work the next day. He hired an attorney after the incident, and a lawsuit against the city was ultimately filed. After both parties failed to reach a settlement agreement the case proceeded to jury trial in the circuit court for claims of battery, false imprisonment, and false arrest.

 

At trial the man testified that he was not violating the loitering law, and to the contrary he was arrested for simply talking back to the police officer. The man also testified that although the criminal charge has been expunged, record of his arrest still exists in his FBI criminal background database. This has apparently prevented him from moving up the ladder and earing higher wages while working at the Pentagon. While Maryland has a user friendly expungement process, the FBI, who keeps records of all arrests and criminal charges, is under no obligation to follow a state order to expunge a record. This is a common problem, and a tough pill to swallow for any person who is wrongfully arrested or prosecuted. At the close of the case the jury awarded damages in the amount of $272,790 in favor of the plaintiff. The city appealed, but then agreed to settle for an even $200,000.

 

The verdict and eventual settlement may seem high considering that the man was not injured, and the criminal case was expunged before it went to court. But the arresting officer who was the target of the civil suit was the opposite of a defendant warranting sympathy. In 2011 the officer was convicted for his role in a city towing scandal where officers were illegally paid by a body shop to refer customers, and falsified accident reports to increase damage claims. The officer served 8 months in federal prison and was fired from the police department. He was also the subject of two other large civil settlements against the Baltimore police; in one case he was accused of breaking a woman’s wrist after pulling her from a car, and in the other case he was accused of beating a handcuffed man. After the city recently settled his third civil case, the cop went on record as stating the settlement was “unbelievable” because the plaintiff had no injuries. These comments prove the shamed ex-cop still doesn’t get it, as you simply cannot put a price on wrongfully arresting, jailing, and prosecuting an innocent person. The officer apparenlty wants his job back, which actually is unbelievable. All the city needs right now is to reinstate an ex-cop convicted of fraud and corruption in federal court, and three times accused of beating, injuring, and wrongfully arresting the citizens he was sworn to protect. Unbelievable indeed, although delusional might be more accurate.

 

Benjamin Herbst is a criminal defense and personal injury attorney who handles cases in all Maryland jurisdictions. Contact Benjamin at anytime for a free consultation about your case at 410-207-2598.

Resources

Man who sued Baltimore officer for false arrest settles for $200,000, baltimoresun.com.

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apple-256261_640.jpgThe shamed Baltimore City public school teacher charged with eleven theft crimes almost a year ago has now pled guilty to one count of felony theft scheme. This past week in the Circuit Court in downtown Baltimore a special statewide prosecutor announced the state would only pursue one of the counts in exchange for the guilty plea. The ex-principal will now avoid what would have been a lopsided trial, as the prosecutor had ample evidence connecting the defendant to almost $50,000 of missing school activity funds. The defendant, who is currently out on bail, was not sentenced at the plea hearing. Rather, sentencing has been set for early October on the one felony count that carries a maximum jail sentence of fifteen years. There is also the possibility of hefty fines and mandatory restitution for the charge, which is classified as theft scheme with a value of $10,000 to $100,000. This offense does not carry a minimum mandatory jail sentence, unlike the embezzlement count that was dropped.
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marijuana-269851_640.jpgThe last couple of months have been quiet on the medical marijuana front, and as a result it did not take much of a pot story to produce headlines at a variety of Maryland news outlets. Last Friday a town planner for the Talbot County seat of Easton announced that the site of a former tool manufacturing plant would receive local zoning approval to become a marijuana growing facility. The planner decided that growing legal pot classifies as agriculture, which is proper in all areas of the Eastern Shore town, save for the historical downtown area. Keep in mind that this facility would strictly be for growing, and would have no dispensing capability, or relationship to any potential local dispensary. Whether this actually turns out to be a story of substance remains to be seen, as the growing company who pitched the town planner has not yet received a state license to grow medical pot. But all the downtime created by the Maryland Medical Marijuana Commission’s methodical pace has left the people and consequently the media in a jumpy mood; nearly any small development will make headlines at this point.
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seal-42280_640.pngThe FBI and the Montgomery County Police recently announced the break up of a large-scale drug ring operating out of a residential area near Rockville. Monday during the early morning hours, as many as 100 state, local and federal law enforcement officers raided numerous townhomes in the Bel Pre development, as well as a business in Prince George’s County. The raids yielded a narcotics, multiple firearms, and over $70,000 in cash. All told 18 people were arrested, and now the defendants face felony drug charges in federal court. All but one of the defendants resides in Maryland, with the non-resident being from Pennsylvania. The defendants are charged with conspiracy to distribute heroin and cocaine, and could face other charges based on the evidence that was seized.
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police-224426_640.jpgNews trucks and National Guard Humvees are no longer lining the streets of Baltimore, but the city is still experiencing elevated crime levels and widespread violence following riots that generated worldwide attention. Forty-two people were murdered within city limits last month, the highest monthly total in over 40 years, and millions of dollars worth of narcotics have fallen into the hands of drug dealers in the last few weeks. The murder rate is attributed by some as a direct result of a lower police presence in high crime areas, exactly the opposite of what is needed. Police in the tensest areas such as the western district of Baltimore City have allegedly shifted their priority to self-preservation rather than protecting the public. According to an anonymous supervising officer who was interviewed on CNN, cops in the western district are basically ignoring orders from the police leadership to vigorously patrol, and are just simply responding to 911 calls. This passive approach is likely causing a sense of lawlessness in certain areas, and in turn wrongdoers are becoming bolder. Although the police commissioner has no plans to step down, there is growing discontent about the department’s leadership going forward. One city councilman has publically called for a new police commissioner, stating that he knows rank and file officers have lost confidence and respect for their commander. This environment has officer moral and motivation at an all time low, and city residents are suffering the consequences.
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cross-23625_640.pngToward the end of the 2015 legislative session the General Assembly convincingly passed a modification of the marijuana decriminalization law. The modification served to cure an inherent defect in the 2014 decriminalization law by removing the possession of marijuana paraphernalia from the catalog of CDS criminal offenses. It was a logical and necessary fix to the ambiguous situation created by the 2014 law, which punished the possession of pot only by a civil fine, yet still punished possession of the device used to ingest the pot with criminal sanctions. This modification was expected to take effect in October of this year, thus ending the ambiguity and giving law enforcement and prosecutors more time to deal with actual issues of public safety. The only hurdle was an approval from our recently sworn governor, which at the time seemed like a forgone conclusion. But this past week Hogan flexed his socially conservative muscle and vetoed the bill, baffling some lawmakers and angering marijuana reform advocates all over the country. So for at least another year, the only thing criminal about smoking a joint Maryland is the rolling paper that keeps it together.
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gelcap.jpgDrug and alcohol related deaths have increased statewide over the past few years, and the jump from 2013 to 2014 was so significant that the governor has declared a health crisis in Maryland. The state health department recently released its annual report for this past year, and the numbers are frightening to say the least. Over 1,000 people died directly from drug and alcohol overdoses last year, which represents a 21 percent increase from 2013. More than half of those deaths were the result of heroin, a narcotic whose popularity has been increasing exponentially over the past decade. In his first year of office, Governor Hogan has made it a priority to combat drug overdoses, and he has taken proactive measures such as approving a bill expanding the use of Naloxone, an opioid antagonist that reverses the effects of heroin. Many police officers statewide, including those in Anne Arundel County, now carry this powerful life saving drug. Chances are that more departments will add it to their officer’s essential police equipment in the future. Ultimately though, the governor’s focus will be on breaking up heroin trafficking rings, and on educating the youth about the dangers of even one single dose this dangerous drug.
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