Over 30 years ago the National Transportation Safety Board advised all states to alter their drunk driving laws by lowering the legal blood alcohol limit from .10 to .08. But the NTSB and congress did not have the direct power to compel states to follow this recommendation through federal legislation. As a result, many states were slow to act on the recommendation and some simply ignored it for years. A few states, including our very own Maryland, likely would still have not ratified the .08 limit had it not been for the federal government employing an all too common backhanded tactic to force the hand of the state governments. States depend on the federal government for a variety of funding grants, but perhaps no single grant is larger than the money states are given to build and maintain highways. The federal money obviously comes at a cost, and congress has the authority to take it away as easily as it gives it. In the 90's congress began to threaten to discontinue federal highway funding, which amounts to tens of millions, to any state that decided to exercise their constitutional autonomy by not following the NTSB's recommendation. Federalism is great, but money talks, and by 2004 the DUI laws of all fifty states had incorporated a .08 BAC limit. Maryland held out until 2001.
May 2013 Archives
Large scale drug smuggling operations are usually prosecuted in federal court, but when the feds decline to take over an investigation it gives the local police some time in the spotlight. The Harford County Sheriff has announced the details of a two year long drug trafficking investigation, that spanned from California to Maryland. The investigation began back in 2010, and police began making arrests in October of 2012. As many as 15 people have been arrested and charged with various crimes under the Maryland controlled dangerous substance laws. Some of the cases have already been resolved by way of guilty pleas, and others remain open with pending trial dates. Police first began their investigation after a 2010 tip from a citizen revealed that an Aberdeen man had been selling large amounts of marijuana throughout Harford County. Over one year later, cops received another tip that linked an Abingdon man with the alleged Aberdeen dealer. This second tip seemed to jumpstart county police into action, as cops began a lengthy undercover operation designed at building a case against all of those involved.
It is no longer surprising to see an American politician wind up in the news with some sort of personal legal issue. It's is an unfortunate sign of the times, but our country's so called leaders seem to only make the news when they are in trouble. Most politicians outside of the heavy hitters remain relatively anonymous until the day their mug shot is plastered on our television or computer screens. Everyone knows Obama and O'Malley, but how many citizens actually know who their state and local representatives are? In the last few months, two Maryland politicians have become better known thanks to run ins with the law. Both of these incidents involve alcohol, as both were charged and subsequently convicted of DUI.
The first conviction occurred a few weeks ago, when Baltimore County councilman, Todd Huff pled guilty to drunk driving. The councilman was stopped by police on York Road in Towson while driving his county issued vehicle. It was later determined that he had a blood alcohol level of .20, which is more than twice the legal limit. Because of Huff's political position, the Baltimore County State's Attorney's office declined to prosecute the case, and Harford County prosecutors stepped in to finish the job. The prosecutor recommended a jail sentence, but the circuit court judge did not feel mandatory jail was warranted. Instead, the judge sentenced Huff to two years of supervised probation and a one-year suspended jail sentence. If the councilman were to violate his probation he could be sentenced to the suspended jail time after a VOP hearing. The sentence appears to be on par with other Baltimore drunk driving cases with similar facts. Had the councilman been arrested in the prosecutor's Harford County he undoubtedly would have been worse off.
About a year ago the Blog posted an article addressing the issue of whether it is legal to video record a police officer engaging in his or her duties. While there is clearly no state or federal law prohibiting this protected First Amendment behavior, the answer is not so simple. In other words, despite no specific law prohibiting the act of filming a cop, it's not legal if the police can just arrest you for disorderly conduct or some other petty offense. A year ago, the Maryland Attorney General issued an opinion advising police departments around the state that the public has the right to video record its officers. The Department of Justice, or DOJ, also filed an 11-page letter with the court in a Baltimore City civil rights lawsuit. The lawsuit was based on a 2010 incident at the Preakness where a man's phone was confiscated after he was seen recording the police make an arrest. This DOJ letter pointed out that the Baltimore Police Department's policies do not adequately protect a citizen's right to record cops. Recently, the DOJ has once again reiterated its stance on this issue by filing another letter with the United States District Court in Maryland.
The 2013 legislative session officially came to an end last month, but 265 bills still awaited Governor O'Malley's signature before they could make the transformation to state laws. The bills covered dozens of different fields of law including health care, environmental law, consumer regulations, education, and of course criminal law. The most notable bills that crossed the governor's desk happened to be right up our alley in the field of criminal law, so naturally those are the bills we will discuss. The blog has followed the progress of state marijuana reformation for the past year, and it seems for there is now a small amount of closure on the topic. The signing of the medical marijuana bill closed the debate until next year's session about how far Maryland was willing to move toward legalization. And to some up what this bill actually means for the state residents, it's safe to say the law is a lot of bark and a little bite.