July 2012 Archives

Maryland Law Enforcement Responds To Changing Views About Marijuana

July 30, 2012

439288_roach.jpgEnforcing Maryland marijuana laws is still a top priority for law enforcement agencies throughout the state, but public sentiment about the drug may be changing the way police look at marijuana cases. Marijuana arrests still account for the majority of all drug arrests throughout Maryland, and in most jurisdictions the ratio of marijuana arrests to other drug arrests is not even close. For example, in Montgomery County 67 percent of all drug possession arrests were for marijuana possession in 2011, and a staggering 74 percent of all drug possession arrests were for marijuana in 2010. These numbers would be even higher if all drug cases processed by Montgomery County Police were included, because a large number of marijuana possession defendants are not arrested, but rather are issued citations for the crime. In contrast, suspects caught by police with other drugs such as cocaine or heroin are almost always arrested at the crime scene. So far in 2012 the percentage of marijuana arrests to all drug arrests has fallen slightly to 63 percent. The question being asked now is whether this percentage will continue to drop as Maryland citizens and Maryland lawmakers become more tolerant of marijuana use.

The Maryland legislature sent a major message to the public when it lowered the maximum penalty for possession of marijuana from one hear in jail to 90 days in jail. The Baltimore Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog has thoroughly documented the softening of marijuana punishments, which will take effect in October, but one topic that has not been discussed is how law enforcement will respond to the legislature's message. It appears for now that Montgomery County law enforcement will continue to enforce Maryland's marijuana laws, but Montgomery police may be shifting their attention and focus to marijuana dealers and suppliers rather than users. The head of the county's drug enforcement section has gone on record stating that Marijuana will still be a priority due to the drug's prevalence and availability, but county cops are being told to arrest the marijuana dealers, rather than to specifically target the drug's users. This is clearly a shift in the traditional way we look at law enforcement. Police officers have always targeted certain crimes more than others, but when a top cop goes on record stating that certain laws will be enforced with more vigor than others, change is clearly in the air. There also may be a shift in the way marijuana possession cases are prosecuted by the state's attorney.

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Maryland Police Can Resume DNA Sampling In Violent Crime Arrests

July 23, 2012

1038827_u_s__supreme_court_1.jpgThe United States Supreme Court will temporarily allow Maryland law enforcement agencies to resume their post arrest DNA testing policies according to an order signed by chief justice John Roberts. The DNA testing policies allow all Maryland law enforcement agencies to take DNA samples of suspects arrested for violent crimes such as robbery, assault, rape, and homicide. The law also allows police to take DNA from a suspect that is arrested for burglary. Although burglary is not a violent crime, it is a crime that is often only solved when forensic evidence such as DNA or latent fingerprints is recovered from the crime scene. Maryland police agencies are not allowed to take DNA samples upon arrest of suspects that are incarcerated for common non-violent crimes such as DUI, possession of marijuana, and drug distribution.

Earlier this year, the Maryland DNA sampling law was challenged in the Maryland Court of Appeals, and the Court ruled that the DNA collection policy was unconstitutional under the 4th Amendment of the United States Constitution. The 4th Amendment protects citizens against unlawful government search and seizures, and it has been argued by the ACLU and the Public Defender's Office that taking DNA samples upon arrest is an unlawful seizure. Most states only take DNA samples from defendants after a criminal conviction, or after a judge issues a warrant specifically allowing DNA collection. The ACLU also argued that Maryland's DNA collection policy violates each citizen's right to privacy. The Maryland high court agreed with the ACLU back in April, and reversed a 2009 rape conviction. The rape defendant was arrested on an unrelated assault charge, and pursuant to the Maryland DNA testing policy; his DNA was sampled and entered into a database. The database matched the DNA taken from the assault arrest with DNA that was recovered at the scene of an unsolved Maryland rape case, and thus an arrest warrant was issued for the rape defendant.

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Breath Alcohol Testing To Resume In D.C. DUI Cases

July 16, 2012

465392_breathalyzer.jpgBreath alcohol tests for drivers suspected of DUI could resume in Washington D.C. as early as next month. Washington was forced to suspend its breath alcohol testing program in drunk driving cases after lawyers of convicted DUI defendants filed dozens of lawsuits challenging the validity the test results. Four of these lawsuits ended in settlements against the city, and other civil lawsuits are still pending. The city eventually admitted that its employees provided inaccurate breathalyzer test results to city prosecutors that were used as evidence in DUI cases. Just as in Maryland, Washington breath technicians are required to conduct and document regular maintenance testing for breath alcohol testing machines, but D.C. techs were neglecting to perform these maintenance tests. In some cases breath technicians were even providing false documentation to prosecuting lawyers that was directly used to prove DUI cases.

A new bill has been introduced in the D.C. counsel that would completely overhaul the city's breath alcohol testing procedures. The bill would also establish stricter standards for prosecuting drunk driving cases and would increase the punishments for defendants convicted of DUI. As it now stands, Washington's drunk driving laws are the most lenient in the region, and one of the goals of the counsel is to align D.C's drunk driving laws with those of Maryland and Virginia. Maryland law currently provides a maximum punishment of up to 1 year in jail and a $1,000 fine for a first DUI conviction. On the other hand, a first DUI conviction in Washington D.C. is only punishable by 90 days in jail and a $300 fine. The new D.C. bill proposes an increase in the maximum punishments for a first DUI to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Washington D.C. officials have also proposed establishing minimum mandatory jail sentences in DUI cases where the driver has a blood alcohol level of .20 or higher, and in cases where a minor is present inside the vehicle at the time the driver was alleged to have been driving under the influence.

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Will The Maryland Legislature Address Synthetic Marijuana?

July 12, 2012

images.jpegIn the past few years the Maryland legislature has weakened its stance on the prosecution of marijuana possession cases. This trend began with the passing of laws that allow defendants charged with possession of marijuana to assert the legal defense of medical necessity. The Maryland legislature also went on to pass a law that will decrease the maximum jail sentence that a defendant charged with a first offense of possession of marijuana can receive. Come October, a first offense for marijuana possession will carry a 60 day maximum jail sentence rather than the scarcely used 1 year maximum jail sentence. Surprisingly though, the Maryland legislature has remained silent on the issue of synthetic marijuana.

Synthetic marijuana is not a new substance, as it has been around for almost 10 years, but it has become increasingly popular over the last few years. More gas stations, convenience stores, and liquor stores are beginning to stock their shelves with the substance often referred to as spice or K2. And the synthetic marijuana has been flying off these shelves lately as a legal, easy to obtain alternative to marijuana. The substance is also desirable because although it can be tested for, it does not produce a positive drug test for marijuana or cannabis. With the increase in synthetic marijuana's popularity comes increased attention by lawmakers and law enforcement, but will lawmakers actually take action to regulate the fake marijuana?

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Are Maryland Drunk Driving Laws The Same For Cars and Boats?

July 7, 2012

1168568_welcome_to_miami.jpgWith the summer boating season in full swing, the Maryland natural resource police is charged with the daunting task of keeping the state's waterways safe. Enforcing Maryland's DUI laws out on the water is one way that the natural resource police can accomplish this objective. The Maryland state police, and local police departments across the state devote a great deal of effort to maintain or increase the amount of drunk driving arrests each year. This is in part to send a message to the public that drunk driving will not be tolerated out on Maryland's roads. Each summer, the natural resource police attempts to send the same message that driving a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs will not be tolerated on Maryland's waters. If you decide to venture out on the 17,000 miles of river or the 1,700 square miles of Chesapeake Bay, chances are that you will encounter a Maryland natural resource police officer. In order to prepare for one of these encounters, it is important for boaters to understand how Maryland's drunk driving laws apply to boaters.

Maryland law does not differentiate between boating and driving with respect to drunk driving laws. The Maryland DUI law, which falls under the transportation statute, prohibits driving any vehicle while either under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or while intoxicated. The words any vehicle are understood to include vessels such as motorboats, sailboats, and jet skis. Therefore, Maryland DUI laws are exactly the same regardless of whether you are driving a car on 695 or cruising on a jet ski down the bay in Ocean City. Maryland natural resource police officers are trained in DUI detection in the same manner as state troopers and local police officers. Natural resource police are also equipped with intoxilyzer machines to administer breath alcohol tests to boaters who they think may be under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Police officers that patrol Maryland's waters may also have an advantage over road patrol officers in making DUI arrests.

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Baltimore City Police Officer Charged With Assault

July 2, 2012

336312_harbor_at_night.jpgA Baltimore City police officer was recently charged with assault after being involved in an altercation in Harford County, Maryland. The exact facts surrounding the altercation are in dispute, but the Baltimore police officer certainly has an interesting explanation for how he became involved in the assault. The criminal charging document alleges that the 10 year Baltimore police veteran, who was off duty at the time, approached a parked vehicle with two occupants seated inside. The police officer was apparently yelling at the occupants to stop dealing drugs, and approached the car in a threatening manner despite not seeing any actual drug transaction taking place.

The charging document goes on to say that the off duty Baltimore cop pulled one of the occupants, a Bel Air, Maryland man, out of the car and committed the assault by slamming him to the ground. The Baltimore officer, who has not hired a criminal lawyer as of yet, then furthered the assault by allegedly pulling out his police semi automatic Glock 22 and pointing the gun in the face of the victim. While the Baltimore officer had his police issued pistol pointed at the victim, he was allegedly still yelling about the drug transaction that may or may not have occurred. There were witnesses to the entire incident, and one witness apparently called the Harford County police, which arrived on scene in minutes.

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