September 2012 Archives

New Maryland Marijuana Law Effective Next Week

September 29, 2012

917191_fulles-04.jpgA variety of new Maryland laws are set to go into effect on Monday, October 1st. Many of these new Maryland laws are part to the criminal justice system, most notably the Maryland marijuana possession law. After years of lobbying by marijuana legalization groups, the Maryland state legislature finally voted to change the state's harsh marijuana possession laws. Starting on Monday, the maximum penalty for simple possession of marijuana will be lowered from 1 year in jail to 90 days in jail, and the maximum fine will be lowered from $1,000 to $500. Simple possession of marijuana is possession of less than 10 grams of the controlled substance. Pressure from pro marijuana lobbyist groups was not the only reason that the legislature and governor agreed with the new marijuana penalties. The legislature was also swayed by proponents of a more streamlined judicial system.

Possession of marijuana cases have been clogging the district court dockets in Maryland for years, especially in densely populated jurisdictions such as Baltimore City, Baltimore County, and Prince George's County. But in the past, many of these simple marijuana possession cases would also end up clogging the circuit court dockets as well. By lowering the maximum penalty for possession of marijuana to 90 days, a defendant is no longer allowed to demand a trial by jury in the circuit court, and starting October 1st possession of marijuana cases will for the most part begin and end in district court. Under the Maryland rules of criminal procedure a defendant may only demand a jury trial if he or she is facing more than 90 days incarceration. The new marijuana possession laws may seem like a victory for marijuana legalization supporters, but losing the right to a jury trial could prove to be a significant detriment to a possession of marijuana defendant who decides to fight his or her charges. Demanding a jury trial in a possession of marijuana case was not only a means to guarantee due process, but also a significant bargaining chip that a defense lawyer could use to earn a better negotiated offer from the state prosecuting lawyer.

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Police Arrest Two Suspects In Baltimore Cookie Theft

September 24, 2012

248584_rack_o_cookie.jpgSnickerdoodle cookies might not have the value of the crown jewels in London, or the gold in Fort Knox, but it is certainly easier to attempt a cookie theft. Or at least that is what two Maryland teenagers had thought before attempting the not so glamorous heist. Baltimore County police recently arrested two sweet toothed teenagers for theft after security guards at the Towson town center observed the teens jumping over the counter at a cookie store. Three Maryland teenagers were apparently involved in the theft, but police were only able to arrest two 16 year old suspects. Police did not reveal exactly how many cookies were stolen by the two teenagers, but the amount appears to be significantly less that the amount of cookies that were stolen at the same store just 48 hours earlier.

About two days before the Maryland teenagers pulled of their small time cookie theft, two unidentified people were caught on camera stealing over 20 pounds of cookies from the same Towson store. The store claimed that 12 pounds of chocolate chip cookies, and 12 pounds of snickerdoodle cookies were stolen. Baltimore County police are investigating whether the two cookie thefts are related, and cops have not ruled out a grand cookie theft scheme involving the two teenagers. Police did note that although the most recent theft involved a small amount of cookies, the type of cookie involved was the same in both thefts. The snickerdoodle.

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Is The Contributory Negligence Era In Maryland Coming To An End?

September 19, 2012

1330873_courthouse.jpgThere are not many civil law topics worthy of a post on a criminal law blog, but the revival of the contributory negligence debate is one topic that deserves an exception. The Maryland civil justice system is one of four states plus Washington D.C. that uses the contributory negligence standard in all civil lawsuits. The contributory negligence standard bars recovery for a party that contributed in any manner to the accident or injury. If a plaintiff brings a civil lawsuit he or she may not recover a dime if the defense lawyers show that the plaintiff was negligent. For example, in a pedestrian accident case if the defense lawyer that represents the driver of the vehicle that hit the pedestrian shows that the pedestrian negligently ran across the street, then the pedestrian may not legally recover any damages. Even if the plaintiff's lawyer has shown the driver who caused the accident was speeding and driving recklessly.

Most states use the comparative negligence standard, which allows the plaintiff to recover damages even if he or she was negligent in causing the accident or injury. If the jury finds that the plaintiff deserves a verdict, the jury will be instructed to subtract their award of damages based on the percentage of the plaintiff's negligence or fault. If the plaintiff proves $100,000 damages but was 10 percent negligent in causing the accident, then the jury will be instructed to award a verdict of $90,000. The contributory negligence standard does occasionally cross over to the criminal justice system, when there is evidence that the plaintiff of an injury case was under the influence of drugs such as marijuana or prescription medication, or if the plaintiff was driving and drinking alcohol, but not to the level that would rise to DUI. The comparative negligence standard in civil cases is highly favorable to the plaintiff, and Maryland trial lawyers have been fighting to change the standard for years. Maryland trial lawyers argue that the contributory negligence standard is too harsh, and unjustly bars recovery. The trial lawyers also argue that everyday citizens are denied access to the civil justice system, because trial lawyers cannot afford to take on cases that may be thrown out due to the slightest bit of contributory negligence. On the other hand, the insurance companies argue that the contributory negligence system keeps frivolous lawsuits out of the court system, and keeps Maryland insurance premiums in check.

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Reported Crime On The Decline In Maryland

September 11, 2012

1164850_law_badge.jpgEach year during the summer, the Maryland State Police releases its uniform crime report for the state of Maryland. The crime report uses data collected from every police jurisdiction in all 24 Maryland counties, but only factors in reported crimes in the report. The Maryland State Police defines reported crimes as actual incidents reported to police by victims, witnesses, and other sources used by law enforcement. Complaints of crime that law enforcement deem unfounded are not included in the reported crimes data. The annual uniform crime report is by no means a complete study of all crime in Maryland. In fact, the report only includes eight umbrella crimes in two separate categories, which are violent crimes and property crimes. A specific crime that does not fit into one of the umbrella crimes is not included in the report. Thus many of the most common crimes in Maryland such as DUI, drug possession, and drug sale are not included. In sum, the annual report is not a study of how many people are breaking the law in Maryland each year. Rather, the report analyzes the crimes that that have the greatest impact on citizens, and gauges how safe we really are throughout Maryland.

The 2011 Maryland uniform crime report was released back in June, and according to the data, reported crimes decreased by almost 5 percent from 2010 to 2011. In 2010, there were 204,916 total crime incidents reported, and this number dropped to 195,517 incidents of crime in 2011. Reported incidents of violent crime in Maryland, which includes murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault decreased by almost 9 percent. Reported property crimes, which include breaking or entering, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson decreased by a much lower rate, but still trended downward. Last year, for every 100,000 people in Maryland, there were roughly 3,350 crime victims, and 495 violent crime victims.

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Are Maryland DUI Checkpoints Effective Part II

September 2, 2012

1254218_glass_of_whiskey.jpgThe previous blog post discussed the effectiveness of Maryland DUI checkpoints, and specifically focused on Howard County, Maryland. Howard County has long since been the most aggressive Maryland County when it comes to instituting and publicizing DUI checkpoints. This post will go into greater detail about yet another Maryland county choosing to make a news splash by instituting a DUI checkpoint during a holiday weekend. The cost and inconvenience of the latest Howard County DUI checkpoint arguably outweighed the actual benefit, but you would never hear anyone from Howard County police admit to that. On the other hand, police from this weekend's Maryland DUI checkpoint in Worcester County may have spilled the beans on what they really think about the value of DUI checkpoints.

The Worcester County DUI checkpoint was conducted through a collaboration of various police departments. Police departments in the Delmarva region have collaborated in the past during previous DUI checkpoints. The Maryland police departments involved in this particular DUI checkpoint team included cops from Berlin, Ocean City, the Worcester County Sheriff, and the Maryland State Police. The Maryland State Police typically takes care of all the public relations in multi jurisdictional efforts such as this Worcester County DUI checkpoint, and the state police spokesman made an extremely telling statement. In a press release the Sergeant was quoted as saying of DUI checkpoints, "they don't always result in a lot of people being arrested for DUI, but you have a lot of contact and education". You can take the Sergeant's comments as typical PR rhetoric and simply gloss over them, or you could dissect and analyze the comments. This being a legal blog, we will do the latter. The Maryland State Trooper first admitted that the checkpoints do not result in a lot of DUI arrests. If the checkpoints do not result in arrests, then why would multiple Maryland police agencies spend time, money, and resources collaborating to plan the checkpoints? Especially when we already know from multiple studies that police can make more DUI arrests using simple patrol saturation tactics, which require minimal planning and collaboration.

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