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police-224426__180State regulators recently did away with an archaic restriction that cost hundreds of otherwise qualified applicants the opportunity to become Maryland law enforcement officers. In a landslide 16 to 1 vote the Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission eliminated the unreasonable restriction, which previously prevented anyone who had smoked pot more than 20 times in their life, or more than 5 times since turning 21, from becoming a sworn police officer. The plea to ease the 40-year old restriction originally came from the Baltimore Police commissioner, who had witnessed an unprecedented exodus of city cops in the wake of the 2015 civil unrest and resulting disdain toward law enforcement. The commissioner has maintained that prior marijuana use has consistently been the main disqualifier of new applicants to the force, with 30 applications already being tossed aside in the first few months of 2017 over prior pot use.

The modified rule still places a restriction on past marijuana use, but it is a far more reasonable one. Rather than place an arbitrary number on the amount of times a person has smoked, the commission chose to impose simple mandatory three-year clean period. The Office of the Attorney General has already reviewed the modified regulation and starting June 1st only applicants that have used marijuana in the last three years will be barred by the state from becoming law enforcement officers. Individual police departments are free to choose to impose tougher restrictions if they choose, but in light of changing pot policy around the state and country it is unlikely that many will exercise this right. One thing we know for sure is that the state’s largest police department in Baltimore will not pursue tougher restrictions.

Despite the apparent show of flexibility by the police training and standards commission, the idea that prior casual pot smoking would bar someone from future employment is still asinine. It’s one thing if a department issues a drug test and the applicant fails, as the recreation use of marijuana is still illegal. But a three-year bar seems like pandering to the dwindling but still present establishment that cannot get over the illogical stigma attached to marijuana. Most of these establishment types reside in law enforcement or in the military, and are often those who drink two beers or whiskeys a day without giving it a thought. Alcohol is completely accepted if not promoted in the law enforcement and military culture despite the negative impact it has on thousands of individuals and their families each year. On the other hand the casual use of marijuana can cost a soldier, cop or federal agent his or her career. We are not in a place yet where marijuana is accepted on the same level as beer or liquor, but at least the new police regulations are a step in the right direction.

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thirteen-bags-of-marijuana-found-in-taxi-cabAnne Arundel County police officers recently executed a search warrant of an Annapolis home and recovered a massive stash of controlled substances. The stash was large in both volume and in variety, as police seized over 11 pounds of high quality marijuana as well as a large quantity of cocaine. Cops also discovered smaller but still significant amounts of LSD, ketamine, heroin and hash oil. Two men were arrested as a result of the search and seizure, which took place at around 3 in the afternoon. Charging documents allege that one of the men jumped out of a second story window and attempted to flee upon becoming aware of the police activity. This man, who lives in nearby Severna Park, allegedly threw a vial of ketamine into a neighbors yard before surrendering to law enforcement. The other defendant who lived at the house surrendered more quietly after opening the door for police. Both men are in their mid twenties and are now facing charges in the District Court for Anne Arundel County in Annapolis.

Although the two men were arrested together their current legal situations are much different. The 25-year old Severna Park man was released from custody and faces two misdemeanor drug possession charges, while the 23-year old remains in custody, and is facing a slew of felony charges. Some of these charges carry potential mandatory jail sentences that may come into play as the case moves to the Circuit Court. The felony charges consist of four counts of CDS possession with intent to distribute for each of the different types of drugs that were recovered. This includes one charge for possession with intent to distribute narcotics that is related to the cocaine, one count of possession with intent for the LSD, one for the marijuana and one for the ketamine.

The 23-year old defendant is also facing two counts of CDS possession large amount, which is a provision related to the drug kingpin laws that are aimed at deterring high-level drug trafficking. Under this statute the defendant is facing the possibility two five-year mandatory sentences for the cocaine and LSD that was recovered. The amount of cocaine required to trigger this charge is 448 grams and the police allegedly recovered 526 grams, and one thousand or more doses of LSD qualifies as a large amount under Maryland law and the police allegedly seized 1,800 doses. There was far more marijuana allegedly recovered in the Annapolis home that anything else, but the 11 pounds were way short of the 50-pound threshold for a CDS possession large amount pot charge.

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weed4-300x194Lawmakers celebrated the end of the state’s annual legislative session with balloons and confetti falling from the ceiling, but despite hundreds of passed bills not all elected officials left Annapolis feeling a sense of accomplishment. There were a few criminal law bills that passed the General Assembly including a measure that will classify human trafficking involving a minor as a sex offense, which will require a defendant to register upon conviction. In addition, lawmakers passed several bills taking aim at the heroin epidemic, a battle that the governor has greatly emphasized. But as has been the case for the last five years, marijuana once again dominated the criminal law headlines, and arguably stole the show for the entire legislative session. The irony in all of this is that medical marijuana is already state law, and has been for a few years now. Despite the lack of groundbreaking news on the topic it just keeps sparking intense debate, and this year the debate may continue even after the official end of the 2017 session.

Several lawmakers have called for a special legislative session to take place in the next few weeks to shore up contentious issues that could further delay the launch of Maryland’s medical cannabis program. Although registration for the program has already opened, with some 1,200 patients registering last week and more than 250 doctors signing on, medical cannabis is unlikely to be available by the September target date. There remain two disgruntled growers with pending litigation against the state after their applications were approved and then curiously dropped by the committee. In addition, democratic lawmakers are still pushing hard for the state to add five more licensed growers to the list of fifteen, which would include those with minority ownership. These House lawmakers tried until midnight on the last day of the session to convince their colleagues in the Senate to add more growers, and some even agreed to license the two growers that are suing, but time ran out before an agreement was reached.

Despite zeros on the clock, some lawmakers feel they still have a shot to increase the number of growers by calling a special legislative session. A special session may be called by the governor or a majority of lawmakers, and would likely last just one day. But before a special session could take place there would likely have to be some sort of agreement on whether to include the two disgruntled growers in the additional licenses. Right now though the House Speaker does not believe the legislature should take measures to help two specific private companies, and in direct contrast the Senate President believes that helping these two companies is crucial to launching the medical marijuana program within a reasonable amount of time. As the Blog has stated in prior posts, a simple way to avoid the contentious debate and imminent delay would be to eliminate the cap on the number of grower licenses. All qualified applicants should be allowed to profit off of the medical cannabis program, and the increased tax revenue and licensing fees would afford the state the additional resources to regulate all of the growers. There is no logical reason for an arbitrary cap, but as we all know there is little logic in politics.

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firearm-409000__480-200x300A Prince George’s County man was recently sentenced to just over ten years in prison followed by three years of probation for robbing a fast food restaurant in Hyattsville. The sentencing occurred last week at the United States District Court of Maryland in Greenbelt after the man pled guilty back in December. According to facts stated in the plea agreement the defendant, who was once an employee at the restaurant, entered wearing a hooded sweatshirt and a mask of the popular Marvel Comics superhero Iron Man. Upon entering the restaurant the masked robber brandished a revolver type handgun at one of the store employees and demanded access to the safe. After realizing the employee did not have access to the safe the robber could have fled the scene, but instead hid behind a wall and waited for the manager to return. The defendant later used his gun to corral the manager and other employees into the manager’s office, where he stole cash from the safe and then from a register on his way out. Before leaving the restaurant the defendant also sprayed and lit lighter fluid on the wall and floor, and fired multiple rounds from his revolver that struck the building. Prince George’s County Police were alerted to the scene during the robbery and located the defendant as he was attempting to flee in his vehicle. Rather than surrender, the masked robber led cops on a high speed chase. The chase did not last long, as the defendant eventually stopped his vehicle and was taken into custody without any further violence. Police ultimately recovered and entered into evidence over $2,000 cash and a revolver with three live rounds and three spent cartridges.

The defendant was charged with numerous offenses, but ultimately pled guilty to robbery and using, brandishing and discharging a firearm. The plea agreement called for a sentence of between 121 months and 14 years prison under the federal guidelines, and the judge ended up going with the lower end. While this case certainly had some terrible facts, the defense probably provided mitigation to offer to the judge on sentencing. It does not appear that the defendant has a prior criminal record in Maryland, and there may have been some mental health issues involved with the case, as the defendant apparently decided to rob the restaurant because he was upset over being fired.

The robbery actually occurred on Christmas Eve of 2014, which is a relatively long period of time for a case of this magnitude. There are several reasons why a case that seems open and shut could last over two years. Cases where the defendant has or is suspected to have a mental health disorder often taken longer to settle due to the need for professional evaluations and treatment prior to plea or trial. Despite an arrest by county officers, this particular case did not appear to originate in state court before the feds took over. Some cases, especially cases involving robbery and firearm use, are filed in state court and then later dismissed and refiled in federal court. This process can cause delays, although a 2+ year gap between arrest and sentencing is still high.

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handgun-231699_640-300x169Marijuana grabbed many of the criminal law headlines over the last few state legislative sessions, but this year it has taken a back seat to other pressing issues such as prescription narcotics, heroin and firearms. We recently posted about proposed bills targeting heroin dealers and there has been heated debate about potential laws designed to limit the amount of prescription pain killers a patient may receive. While the fate of these bills remains to be seen, there are also multiple guns bills that have recently appeared on the House and Senate floors in Annapolis.

The first bill is an attempt to alter a strict state law prohibiting the possession of firearms on public college campuses. As it stands now any person arrested for possessing a handgun at a state university or public school faces a felony charge with a 3-year maximum jail sentence. Possession of a knife or other deadly weapon on school property is a misdemeanor, albeit with the same maximum punishment. The new bill would alter the statute by eliminating the possibility of a felony charge for a person caught possessing a handgun on a college campus. Rather, this offense would become a civil infraction only punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 come this October year if the bill passes. The changes would not apply to gun possession at a public elementary, middle or high school.

A civil citation for possession of a handgun on a public college campus would be handled in the same manner as a citation for offenses such as possession of alcohol by a minor, or using a fake ID. The defendant would be summoned to appear in court, and failure to appear could result in the issuance of a warrant. Failure to pay any fine imposed could result in the defendant being held in criminal contempt of court. Despite these possible sanctions, which can include jail time, this type of citation is not criminal and may not be considered a criminal conviction if the defendant is found guilty. On the other hand, if these citations are not expunged they will be accessible to the public and negative collateral consequences could follow. This is in contrast to the marijuana civil citation statute, which does not permit public access on casesearch and at the courthouse. Defendants would be entitled to have an attorney present at court hearings for these citations, and the prosecutor could elect to place the case on STET or enter a nolle prosequi pursuant to an agreement.

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atm-313958_1280-300x200The number of Baltimore City school employees recently arrested for stealing from their own schools climbed to four after a former principal was charged with numerous counts of theft and embezzlement. The 44 year-old female administrator from Owings Mills now faces felony charges in the Baltimore Circuit Court, which has seen more than its share of public corruption cases. The allegations in this particular criminal scheme are disturbing to say the least as this was far from a one-time thing for the ex principal, whose school closed down after the 2016 academic year. She had been working at the school board’s central office on North Avenue, but is now on leave and is likely never return. A male teacher from Randallstown that worked at the same alternative high school has also been charged, and he will be co-defendants with his former boss in one of her three cases. The co-defendant case has an incident date of June 8th, 2016, right around the time the school closed, but the former boss is facing theft scheme and misappropriation by a fiduciary/ embezzlement charges in two other cases that allegedly began 2013.

The Office of the Maryland State Prosecutor is handling this prosecution, as they do with many public corruption cases not pursued by the feds. The office began investigating both defendants after being notified of the possible wrongdoing by the Baltimore City School’s legal department. Charging documents for one of the cases alleges that the former principal stole $13,409.28 from a bank account that she set up on behalf of the school. Proceeds from school uniform sales, school supplies, class dues and graduation fees were all placed into the account only to be withdrawn by the defendant in 49 separate ATM transactions at of all places a casino. The Maryland Live Casino in Anne Arundel County likely has recorded footage of the former principal using the school’s debit card to take out cash that was simply gambled away. Another case alleges that the former principal used fraudulent purchase orders to steal over $40,000 of electronics from the Baltimore City school system, including speakers, laptops, tablets and digital cameras. Finally, the most recent case alleges the former principal and her co-worker conspired to steal four flat screen televisions from the now closed high school at the city county line near Dundalk.

All indictments were filed in the circuit court last week and the charges were just announced by the state prosecutor. Neither defendant is currently incarcerated nor are there court dates set at this time. Both will likely be arraigned within the next month, and their cases will be set for trial 2-3 months later. The former principal is facing the realistic possibility of a jail sentence for her actions, although the last Baltimore public school principal found guilty of felony theft received a five year suspended sentence. If found guilty, the teacher who allegedly participated in the television theft will not likely face jail time and could possibly be granted the benefit of a probation before judgment, thus keeping his record free of a felony conviction. The Blog will follow the progress of these cases, and we may post another article in the future.

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pistol-1350484_1280-300x200Two suspects who burglarized a Rockville gun shop last week remain at large, and now law enforcement officers believe they may be linked to another recent burglary in nearby Virginia. Montgomery County police officers were alerted to the crime scene last week by the store’s alarm system at round 4 a.m., and they quickly responded to the Rockville shop to find the door pried open and glass cases smashed. Several firearms were taken from the glass cases as well as from racks behind the counter. In total the store reported more than 30 missing handguns and long rifles. The burglary gained national attention after the entire 90-second spree was captured on two high definition cameras, which were played for television and internet audiences. Both suspects were covered head to toe on black garb, and their faces were covered, thus making visual identification nearly impossible. A small clip of one of the suspects warning the other that it was time to leave the scene is audible and the burglars were allegedly spotted fleeing in a light colored four-door sedan, but there does not appear to be any other identifying information on the pair. There is no word yet whether crime scene investigators were able to recover any beneficial forensic evidence such has hair, skin or shoe samples.

Another gun store was burglarized this week in the same manner, and law enforcement officers are searching for clues as to whether these two smash and grabs are linked. The suspects in the Fairfax County crime were dressed differently, but appear to be similar in stature to the suspects in the Rockville burglary. Montgomery County Police are joined by federal agents from the ATF and Virginia officers in searching for leads to these two burglaries. If the suspects are apprehended they could be prosecuted under state law, federal law or both. Under Maryland state law the actions of the two suspects would be classified as a second degree burglary. There is a special provision under 6-203 of the Maryland code that deals specifically with breaking and entering with the intent to steal a firearm. The maximum punishment for a violation of this section is 20 years as opposed to 15 years for a standard burglary in the second degree. If prosecuted under state law each defendant could face over 30 counts (one for each gun) of second-degree firearm burglary as well as theft and destruction of property charges. With the announced involvement of the ATF though, it is likely that if the case is ever cracked the defendants will have to answer for their actions in the U.S. District Court in Greenbelt.

The ATF reported over 550 burglaries of licensed gun stores nationwide in 2016. This number rose from 377 in 2015, which represents a disturbing increase of over 50 percent. The illegal market for firearms will continue to thrive as states such as Maryland pass stricter limitations on gun possession and legal purchases, and as a result the ATF and local law enforcement could once again have their hands full in 2017.

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police-224426__180The U.S. Attorney recently announced that seven Baltimore City police officers have been indicted on numerous felony charges, and the fallout has already extended beyond the cops’ alleged criminal acts. A federal grand jury returned the indictment back in February, but it was sealed until agents had the opportunity to execute search and arrest warrants. All seven have been arrested and remain in custody after a judge denied bail pending trial. While bail is typically granted for a defendant with no prior criminal record that is not facing a capital offense or violent life felony, prosecutors made the argument that these defendants, who served on the gun trace task force together, were especially dangerous to the public and possessed unique training that would make them flight risks. Defense lawyers for the accused countered by arguing that the charges were blown out of proportion, but the federal magistrate judge was not convinced and stated that no conditions of bail or supervised release would be enough to protect the public.

The charges returned by the grand jury were numerous, and included offenses such as wire fraud, robbery, conspiracy and extortion by a state or government employee. These charges were bundled in one racketeering indictment, which alleged the defendants stole money and drugs from civilians they detained or arrested and submitted fraudulent overtime reports. One of the defendants also allegedly posed as federal prosecutor in order to get more information out of a victim, which the officers subsequently burglarized and stole $20,000 from. Six of the defendants were also charged in a separate seven-count indictment for drug charges including conspiracy to distribute heroin and cocaine, and officer is charged with distribution of heroin resulting in death.

All seven of the accused officers face up to 20 years in prison for the racketeering and conspiracy charges. The six defendants in the drug indictment face even more exposure as antiquated federal drug laws still provide harsher punishments for those that sell drugs than for those that rob, steal from or assault others. Three defendants face conspiracy to distribute more than a kilogram of heroin, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison with a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence. The other three are charged with selling slightly less heroin, but still face up to 40 years with a 5-year mandatory minimum. One of the soon to be ex cops faces an additional 20 years in jail for distributing heroin that results in death.

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gun-728958_1280-300x169Lawmakers stated in no uncertain terms their desire to make Maryland one of the toughest gun law states in the country when they passed the Firearm Safety Act back in the spring of 2013. The then democratic governor’s signature was a foregone conclusion and as of October of that same year the sale, purchase and transfer of semi-automatic handguns with a magazine capacity greater than 10 rounds became illegal, as did the possession of certain “assault” rifles and pistols. New security requirements were also established for state residents wishing to purchase firearms. While the magazine capacity limitation was frustrating for dealers, potential buyers and manufacturers such as Beretta, which was in essence forced to move dozens of M9 pistol manufacturing jobs out of Maryland, it was the assault rifle ban that caused the most backlash.

Politicians and anti-gun lobby groups hailed the assault rifle ban as a major victory in the fight against gun violence but it also left many outraged that it was neither constitutional nor beneficial. Firearms rights advocacy groups such as the NRA challenged the ban on numerous popular weapons such AR-15, which is a semiautomatic civilian version of the M-16 automatic assault rifle. The state prevailed in round one of litigation after a federal district court judge ruled that Maryland lawmakers did not overstep constitutional boundaries by banning weapons they believed were not built for self defense or recreational purposes, but rather to kill. Round two of litigation went to the NRA and other original plaintiffs. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit remanded the decision back to district court because the judge used an incorrect standard when conducting a balancing test between government intrusion and the state’s interest in protecting its citizens. But not long after this decision came down the state appealed, and the Fourth Circuit agreed to hear the case again. Only this time all judges at the Richmond, Virginia appellate court would be present and involved in the decision rather than a panel of just three judges like in the prior appeal.

In a somewhat lopsided decision, the Fourth Circuit recently ruled 10-4 that the Second Amendment does not protect so called assault rifles from being banned by Maryland law. The opinion labels weapons like the AR-15 as “weapons of war” that have already been excluded from constitutional protection by the Supreme Court in a prior case out of Washington D.C. The appeals court wrote that state lawmakers and not the courts bear the responsibility for the safety of their residents, and should not be prevented from regulating assault weapons. A strong dissenting opinion argued that states should have no say in what type of weapon citizens should be able to keep in their homes for protection as long as that weapon is one commonly possessed by American people for lawful purposes, and the AR-15 is undeniably possessed lawfully by thousands of Americans.

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account-1280502_1280-200x300Public corruption cases have always garnered special attention from law enforcement officers and prosecutors, and the media seems equally interested. Baltimore City made national news headlines in 2016 after a corruption scheme was exposed at the city jail as did the arrest of a Baltimore school principal who pled guilty to theft of student activity funds back in 2014. While these cases caused a stir, there is a particular kind of outrage reserved for elected public servants who cheat or steal from the very people that put them in office and pay their salaries. Elected officials almost always campaign on a platform of honesty and devotion to their constituents, and although few actually deliver on these promises actual corruption is rarely exposed. However, there will be at least two former Maryland politicians facing jail sentences for corruption in 2017. We already posted about the former Maryland State Delegate from Prince George’s County who is awaiting sentencing in federal court in April for bribery, and now he will be joined in asking for a judge’s mercy by another corrupt ex-politician.

The former mayor of a small eastern shore town in Caroline County recently pled guilty to theft scheme from $10,000 to $100,000, malfeasance in office and forgery. The 52-year old woman was also charged with embezzlement and other counts of theft, which were nolle prossed pursuant to her plea agreement. In a criminal complaint law enforcement alleged that the former mayor transferred money from the Town of Marydel’s bank account into her own account and even went so far as to use a debit card in the town’s name to pay her personal bills. There were also claims that the shamed former mayor forged the signatures of other town officials on checks that she used for herself. The theft scheme totaled more than $61,000, which is a huge chuck of change for a town with a population of less than 200.

credit-card-1211408__480-300x195The Office of the State Prosecutor handled the case in place of the Caroline County State’s Attorney, which is common practice when elected officials are prosecuted. This is especially true in smaller jurisdictions where all elected officials typically work closely together and are on a first name basis with each other. The former politician is currently being held at the county jail without bail, and will go before a circuit court judge in Denton in April to learn her fate. She faces up to 10 years in prison on the forgery charge and 15 years on the felony theft charge. The malfeasance in office count is a common law violation that does not carry a specific maximum punishment. Maryland judges are only bound by the Eight Amendment, which bars cruel and unusual punishment for common law crimes other than conspiracy. A sentence for conspiracy cannot be greater than the maximum penalty for the crime at issue.