Published on:

hammer-719066_960_720-300x225Finding out there is a warrant for your arrest is a terrible feeling, but there are a number of things you can do to minimize your time in custody or better yet avoid being arrested at all.   There are two types of warrants for criminal cases in Maryland state courts, and the first step is to figure out what type of warrant you have. The most common type of warrant in Maryland is a bench warrant, which just like its namesake is issued by a district or circuit court judge of the from the bench. A large percentage of bench warrants are issued in open court after a defendant fails to appear at a mandatory court appearance. Failure to appear at any mandatory court date will likely result in a warrant regardless of the seriousness of the case. Even non-jailable offenses like civil alcohol citations for underage drinking and driving on a suspended license (section h) require the appearance of the defendant and authorize judges to issue warrants for failures to appear.

Not all failures to appear are created equal. A defendant who fails to appear for his or her trial date on a felony criminal offense will likely receive a no bail bench warrant, and any prior bail or pre-trial release will be forfeited.   A defendant who fails to appear at sentencing could be in an even worse position, as the judge or the state may rescind any prior plea offer. Upon arrest these defendants may be forced to wait in custody until their case is over or at the very least until the issuing judge modifies the no bail hold. A defendant who fails to appear at a misdemeanor criminal case or traffic case by receive a bench warrant with a preset bail or with instructions for the commissioner to set bail. These defendants can go straight to the district court commissioner’s office if they want to have the warrant lifted, but there is always the risk the commissioner will deny bail. If the commissioner denies bail the defendant will have to wait until the next business day to see a judge. Violation of probation warrants are also considered bench warrants, but many times these warrants have either preset bails or no bails. Either way, the best way to deal with bench warrant is to contact an attorney and have him or her file a motion to recall the warrant. Judges are not robots, and if you have a legitimate reason why you missed court, or if you simply forgot the judge may have enough sympathy to quash the warrant and then direct the clerk to issue a summons. While you can try to accomplish this by filing your own pro se motion it is always better to hire an attorney, as the judge will see you have made an investment in the case and are not likely to miss court again. This is also true for violation of probation warrants, as judges just want to make sure you show up for your VOP hearing before considering to recall your warrant.

The second type of warrant is an arrest warrant, and there are far too many issued in Maryland when the more practical thing to do would be to issue a summons. A true arrest warrant should only be used in cases where the commissioner or judge believes the defendant is a danger or a flight risk, but unfortunately it doesn’t work this way. On recommendation from a police officer or from the state or based on a civilian statement of charges a judge or commissioner may bypass setting a court date and issuing a summons for an arrest warrant. These warrants are more difficult to work around because they are typically sealed for 90 days and as a result you can’t just file a motion to have them recalled. Also, a person with an arrest warrant cannot simply go to the commissioner’s office to take care of it, as he or she must be booked at the police station before going to the commissioner. If the state either indicts the defendant or files an information in the circuit court, the defendant will not go to the commissioner at all. After being booked at the police station he or she will be taken directly to the county or city jail to await being bailed out or seeing a circuit court judge. In cases involving arrest warrants it is entirely possible to take care of the whole process in just a couple of hours, but knowing where to go and what time to go is key. The most basic advice if you know or think you have a warrant is not to wait too long to address it. The sooner you act the better it will look to the judge, and it’s always better to turn yourself in on your own terms then to be arrested out of the blue. If you or a loved one has a warrant feel free to contact Benjamin Herbst at 410-207-2598. Benjamin is an experienced Maryland criminal defense lawyer that specializes in handling bench warrants and arrest warrants.

Published on:

prison-300x201Two county jails in Maryland are now under investigation for alleged mistreatment of juvenile inmates. In response to complaints lodged by the Public Defender’s Office, the State Department of Education is investigating whether juvenile inmates were properly separated from the adult jail population while being housed at adult facilities. State and federal law requires juvenile inmates to be totally separated by sight and sound from the rest of the population, which is often accomplished by housing them in separate wings or units of the jail. But the Baltimore County and Frederick County Detention Centers now stand accused of violating these laws and have yet to issue any statements denying the accusations.

A 2015 Maryland law requires that juvenile defendants charged with adult crimes must be housed in juvenile facilities until their request to transfer the case back to juvenile court has been denied. Legally speaking the transfer request is called a reverse waiver hearing. This is an essential stage of the case, and all child defendants must be afforded the opportunity to have their lawyer argue for the case to be heard in juvenile court. Adult criminal court simply does not offer the same type of services and support as juvenile court and is focused on punishment rather than the education and treatment.

Defendants under the age of 18 who commit a felony such as first degree assault or robbery with a firearm must petition a circuit court judge for a reverse waiver in order to be tried in juvenile court. Juvenile courts do not have original jurisdiction for serious offenses of this nature. The process of waiving a case down does not happen automatically and if a motion is not filed the defendant may lose this opportunity. At the reverse waiver hearing the judge will consider numerous factors such as the age of the child, the risk to public safety and the mental and physical condition of the child. If the judge denies the reverse waiver the child must then be transferred to an adult jail facility pending the results of the trial. Defendants that are in school at juvenile facilities will be taken out and sent to jails that offer minimal educational opportunities, and according to these reports struggle to keep their most vulnerable defendants safe.

Published on:

Gun-evidence-box-300x225This past week a 23-year old man from Baltimore was sentenced to 13 years in prison for his role in a brazen gun store robbery that left one victim locked in a vault and others fearing for their lives. Four other co-defendants had already been sentenced at the U.S. District court in Baltimore, including the principal planner who received 20 years for armed commercial robbery. The fifth and final sentencing hearing closes a case that federal law enforcement officers and prosecutors had been working on since August of 2016.

According to the plea agreement the five co-defendants targeted an independently owned firearms and bait and tackle store in the Dundalk area of Baltimore County. The principal planner drove his four cohorts to the store in a stolen pickup truck. The defendant and another co-defendant then entered the store brandishing their own firearms and bound one of the employees with zip-ties while making the other employee empty the cash register at gunpoint. Two other co-defendants then entered the store while the planner backed the stolen pickup to the front door of the shop. The four men then proceeded to load 37 firearms into duffel bags and then ran to the truck, but not before shoving one employee into a vault and locking her inside. Three assault rifles were included in the 37, along with a silencer and cash.

After fleeing to Baltimore the five co-defendants divided up the cash and guns and went their separate ways. The FBI, ATF and Baltimore County Police Department all went to work immediately on the case, and their investigation resulted in numerous search warrants that yielded evidence of the robbery. Video surveillance showed that the 23-year old defendant left earbuds inside the store, and also handled a shotgun that he did not ultimately steal. Law enforcement was able to recover a fingerprint from the shotgun that led to a database match, which in turn provided probable cause for a search warrant.   Law enforcement also could have recovered DNA from the earbuds used in the robbery in their investigation. A search of this defendant’s home produced numerous firearms from the store with the tags still attached, and also the loaded pistol that the defendant used in the robbery. Additionally, law enforcement recovered evidence that the defendant committed other robberies just weeks before hitting the Dundalk shop. The defendant likely avoided prosecution in these cases by striking a plea deal with the government.

Published on:

drink-driving-808790_960_720-300x200The DUI laws in Maryland change almost every year, which makes it difficult for the average person to know what to expect in the days and weeks following an arrest.  This is especially true for out of state drivers from states such as Pennsylvania, Virginia, Delaware and others.  Two of the biggest questions after being arrested for DUI are going to jail and losing your license, so for this post we’ll focus on those two issues.

Will I go to jail if I’m arrested for DUI in Maryland?  First of all, the following paragraphs apply only to those defendants that intend to plead guilty.  If you believe you were wrongfully arrested you should certainly consider taking your case to trial (we always recommend a jury trial for DUI).  While no lawyer will ever be able to guarantee or predict a specific outcome it is extremely rare for a first offender to serve jail time for a first DWI or DUI.  This is true in all jurisdictions, including the federal courts that handle citations issued on certain federally maintained roads like the BW Parkway (295) and the Clara Barton Parkway, or on military bases like Fort Meade and Andrews. Unfortunately there are exceptions to this no jail for a first offense rule for cases involving injury accidents, extremely high BAC levels or not cooperating with police.

As for repeat offenders, the prospect of jail time increases depending on the number of priors and the time that has elapsed since the priors.  A defendant with one prior DUI that happened more than 5 years ago could certainly make a good case for a probation sentence, while a third time offender will have a more difficult time accomplishing this goal.   Maryland law imposes a mandatory 5-day sentence for a second DUI conviction within 5 years and a mandatory 10-day sentence for third conviction within 5 years of the last.  The best way to avoid jail time regardless of if you are a repeat offender is to be proactive, and show the judge this will never happen again.  We advise each of our clients to immediately seek out an alcohol education program, set up an evaluation and comply with any treatment recommendations.  You may not need counseling, but it will absolutely help in court and the judge will probably order it anyway.  After finishing the program be sure to obtain a certificate that you can present in court, and be ready to speak about your experience and answer any questions about what you learned.  An attorney can and should assist you in finding the right program.

Published on:

concertina-wire-1031773_960_720-200x300A former Prince George’s County delegate has been sentenced to four years in federal prison followed by three years of probation for engaging in bribery and conspiracy while in office.  The sentence was announced by federal prosecutors after a hearing at the U.S. District Court in Greenbelt more than six months after the former state lawmaker’s trial.  Back in March a federal jury found the ex-delegate guilty of four counts of bribery and one count of conspiracy for accepting thousands of dollars from various business owners in exchange for favorable treatment. At sentencing the presiding judge was informed that the shamed delegate also stole over $100,000 in campaign funds during his 14-year tenure as an elected official.

According to evidence presented by the government the former delegate conspired with members of the county liquor board and liquor store owners to vote favorably on issues that would increase the profitability of the store owners.  This included votes on proposals to establish additional permits to sell alcohol on Sundays, and for these favorable votes the former lawmaker received at least $19,000 in cash payments. In reaching a sentencing decision the judge not only considered evidence presented during the two-week trial, but also evidence of wrongdoing that the government presented at the sentencing hearing. The former lawmaker was not brought to trial on charges of theft or misconduct in office for stealing campaign funds, but it undoubtedly factored into the judges decision to sentence the delegate to four years in jail.  The former delegate and his legal team did not attempt to deny the government’s claim that he stole the funds, which likely means there was some sort of agreement between the parties beforehand.  The government probably felt it would not be necessary to bring the former lawmaker to trial twice, as long at the sentencing judge was aware and considered the additional misconduct.

While it may seem unfair to a layperson, prosecutors are permitted to introduce evidence of wrongdoing at sentencing that was not presented at trial. The traditional rules of evidence do not apply during sentencing hearings, which means nearly everything about the defendant is fair game. The prosecution is still bound by ethical rules preventing them from informing the court about rumors and unfounded accusations, but the defendant’s character is always tested at a sentencing hearing.  The flip side of the coin is that the defense is rarely limited as to what it can bring to the court’s attention during this phase of the proceeding.  Defendants may call numerous witnesses to testify on their behalf, and these witnesses are not subjected to traditional cross-examination.  While every judge operates differently, it is usually beneficial to have family, friends and other members of the community to testify for a defendant at sentencing.  Prosecutors spend the entire trial attacking the defendant, who most of the time is advised to exercise his or her 5th Amendment right to remain silent. Sentencing is generally the only time where the judge can learn more about the defendant as a person, rather than a criminal suspect.

Published on:

Medical-Cannabis-300x200Medical marijuana first became available in Maryland just 8 months ago, and after a few hiccups in the opening weeks the program is now becoming a well-oiled machine.  There are 65 dispensaries currently throughout the state, and almost all are enjoying a steady stream of business.  These dispensaries reported gross sales of $1.8 million in December and now that number is approaching $10 million.  In addition, there are now seven times more medical marijuana purchases per month than when the program first began.  Since the beginning of summer at the end of May until now the number of patients has risen 30 percent to roughly 36,000.  This number could increase another 3 to 4 times still, as experts have estimated 2 percent of the state’s total population will eventually obtain certification.  And finally, while we’re talking numbers, there are now 985 medical providers who can recommend cannabis, which is up from 709 at the end of May.  New patients are coming forward each day, and medical doctors, nurse practitioners and psychologists are jumping on board as well.

Considering it took almost 5 years from when medical marijuana first became law until it became operational, the current progress has to be considered a success.  But that doesn’t mean the system in Maryland is without flaws.  For starters medical cannabis is not covered by any health insurance plans in the state as it’s still not approved by the FDA as medical necessity.  Patients can spend anywhere from $100 to $1,500 a month for their supply of cannabis, and while state dispensaries offer high quality safe products, they don’t come cheap. Tight regulations, limits on the number of growers and distributors and long expensive delays are just some of the reasons for high cannabis prices in Maryland, and for some it can be cost prohibitive.

Not everyone can afford to spend hundreds of dollars per month cash to obtain the medicine they need to simply feel normal.  The sad truth remains that it is still cheaper to medicate with prescription narcotics that are both chemically habit forming and potentially deadly.  Some resort to growing marijuana plants in their homes or on their property to cut costs, but this is a risky strategy as personal marijuana cultivation is still a felony in Maryland.  Lawmakers recently tried to pass a bill legalizing the possession of up to an ounce of pot and allowing residents to grow up in six plants in their homes, but this bill failed to make it to the governor’s desk.  Growing even one marijuana plant is a felony the CDS manufacturing law and is punishable by up to 5 years in prison.  Law enforcement still actively investigates any tip involving marijuana manufacturing and spends taxpayer dollars performing expensive aerial surveillance missions in search of outdoor home growers.  Tips and surveillance can lead to search warrant, which then can lead to seizures and arrest.  Things only get more serious if an otherwise lawful firearm is found on the searched premises, as this can lead to a charge for possession of a firearm in drug trafficking crime, which carries a minimum mandatory prison sentence upon conviction.

Published on:

adult-1866883_1280-300x225A Maryland State Police trooper arresting a driver for DUI on a Friday night in Baltimore County is hardly a newsworthy occurrence.  But when the same trooper arrests the same driver for the same offense just two hours after the first traffic stop it has to make your head turn.  The first arrest happened just after midnight on Route 40 in Rosedale, an area northeast of Baltimore City.  This stretch of highway is a hot area for late night police patrols, and officers are especially keen to impaired driving.  On this particular night a trooper observed a woman driving 67 in a posted 50 mph zone on Route 40 and allegedly passing another car on the shoulder.  A traffic stop ensued and the officer arrested the 33-year old female driver for suspicion of DUI.  The Baltimore woman was also issued a host of other citations including negligent driving, reckless driving, open container and driving off the roadway while passing another vehicle.  As is typical for most DUI cases the woman was processed at the police station and released a couple hours after the initial stop.  What is not typical is that the woman decided to return to her car and drive home that same night.

The state trooper working that evening likely had an idea that the woman he arrested was not finished driving for the night.  According to reports he observed her get back in her vehicle that was parked on a side street off 40.  Police could have had the vehicle towed but they did her a favor and left it parked, which in hindsight was not favor at all.  The trooper followed the woman for a short distance and then initiated another traffic stop at 1:58 a.m., less than 2 hours after and 2 miles away from the first stop.  The same signs of impairment were observed and the woman was again arrested and taken to the police station.  This time she received additional citations for driving within 12 hours after an arrest for DUI or DWI and willfully disobeying a lawful order of a police officer.  Driving within 12 hours of a drunk driving arrest is a jailable offense that carries a maximum penalty of 60 days, and while it’s not that common, it is definitely an offense that a judge will not take lightly.

The woman will be summoned to appear for trial sometime in the next couple months at the district court in Essex. She may chose to resolve her cases in district court or request a jury trial and have the case transferred to Towson. In this type of situation the defendant and her attorney will likely be better served by trying to have the cases consolidated to the same trial date, which the clerk’s office will likely do considering the arresting officer is the same.  Assuming the cases are set for trial on the same day a good defense strategy would be to try to enter into a plea agreement on one of the cases in exchange for the State dismissing the other.  If the State agrees to drop one of the cases it may turn out to be the first case, as it would be reasonable to expect the prosecution to be firm on the charge of driving within 12 hours after a DUI arrest.

Published on:

caution-389408__480-300x201Maryland State Police recently arrested a man who was waiting in line to take his driving test at the MVA headquarters in Glen Burnie, and charged him with numerous drug felonies.  The 23-year old from Baltimore was in his mother’s vehicle awaiting his turn with a driving instructor when an MVA employee noticed the smell of marijuana coming from the car.  An MSP trooper responded to the scene and initiated a warrantless search of the vehicle based on probable cause that it contained marijuana.  The trooper’s suspicion was confirmed and then some, after he located a large plastic bag containing approximately 1 pound of marijuana, a 9 millimeter handgun, a digital scale and more than $15,000 cash. The man was arrested immediately after the contraband was discovered and taken before a commissioner.  He was released that same day on an unsecured $7,500 personal bond.

The young man now faces a dozen charges in Anne Arundel County including possession with intent to distribute and possession of marijuana over ten grams. The maximum penalty of PWID marijuana is 5 years, though recent changes to the sentencing guidelines have decreased the amount of jail time most defendants actually see for this offense. Nowadays it is rare for a first time offender to serve much if any jail time unless he or she is involved in a large-scale operation.  The concerns for the defendant in this case are the gun charges, especially the crime of possession of a firearm during a drug trafficking crime.  A conviction for this felony charge carries a minimum five-year prison sentence, which cannot be suspended and the defendant is not eligible for parole.  The defendant is also charged with the less common crime of firearm use during the commission of a felony that also carries a mandatory five years, but is a misdemeanor. Other gun counts include handgun on person and handgun in vehicle, which are essentially the same crime with the same 3-year maximum penalty.

The 9-millimeter Glock that was seized from the car allegedly had an altered or scratched out serial number, and this is a separate crime under the public safety code.  Under Maryland law anyone found to be in possession of a gun with an altered serial number is presumed to have altered it.  Finally, the defendant in this case was also charged with possession of a detached magazine with over ten rounds.  The controversial Firearms Safety Act now limits the capacity of gun magazines to ten bullets, which makes many common firearms illegal in Maryland including the standard military Beretta pistol.  The Blog will follow this case as it progresses through the court system.  It is currently set for a preliminary hearing in district court, but the State will likely indict the case and it will be transferred to the circuit court in Annapolis. We will post an update if anything of interest happens in this case.  If the defendant is found guilty or enters a plea, the sentence will depend on whether he has a prior record of gun, drug or other criminal charges.  If you have a question about a criminal case in Maryland or have been charged with a crime feel free to call gun crime attorney Benjamin Herbst anytime at 410-207-2598.  Benjamin specializes in gun and drug charges in state and federal court and offers flexible payment plans for all types of cases.

Published on:

concertina-wire-1031773_960_720-200x300The Department of Justice recently reported that a former bail bondsman has been sentenced to five years in federal prison for his role in a drug distribution conspiracy with Baltimore Police officers.  According the plea agreement the 51-year old defendant from the Middle River area of Baltimore County stole drugs, cash and jewelry from citizens between 2015 and 2017.  He also obtained significant quantities of narcotics from a former Baltimore Police sergeant who is currently serving a 25-year sentence for racketeering, robbery, falsification of records and public corruption.  Court documents alleged that the sergeant would repeatedly steal or confiscate narcotics during the course of his duties as a police officer.  The sergeant would then deliver the drugs to the bail bondsman, who would store them on his property until he and other co-conspirators were able to sell them.  In some instances the bail bondsman tagged along with the police sergeant during raids and searches.  All told the bail bondsman netted hundreds of thousands of dollars from the illegal drug sales, which were divided among the numerous corrupt officers that helped facilitate the scam.

Multiple law enforcement organizations participated in this investigation including the FBI and the Baltimore County Police Department. Investigators likely received a great deal of information about this case from co-defendants looking to receive a break from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, but the case was made after the execution of a search warrant at the bail bondsman’s home yielded over 400 grams of crack, 200 grams of cocaine, 14 grams of heroin, MDMA, cash and expensive jewelry.  Luckily for the defendant no firearms were found during the execution of the warrant, as the presence of guns could have resulted in a much harsher sentence. Federal sentencing guidelines provide harsher penalties for certain gun crimes than Maryland state sentencing guidelines, and many of these offenses carry mandatory prison time.

The bail bond industry in Maryland has been hit hard by reforms mandated by the Court of Appeals and the state legislature.  Judges are no longer permitted to impose exorbitant bail amounts unless doing so would be the least restrictive means to assure the defendant’s return to court.  Bail in any amount may not be used as a means to protect the community while a defendant is pending trial, as this is now the responsibility of pre-trial services. Obviously, this case was not directly related to bail reform, but one is left to wonder whether tough financial times motivated this defendant to engage in illegal activities.

Published on:

heroinbust-300x198The Maryland State Police recently reported that arrests have been made and indictments filed for participants in a large Eastern Shore drug ring that also operated in Delaware.  The investigation began back in the spring when the Queen Anne’s County Drug Task Force began to focus on the alleged ring leader, a 31 year old male living in Centreville, who police believed was importing and distributing large amounts of heroin, cocaine and narcotic pills in the area.  An intense investigation led to the execution of multiple search warrants that were executed on June 1.  The search warrants resulted in the seizure of close to $32,000 in cash, seven vehicles, five firearms and over 250 grams of cocaine.  Police also seized smaller amounts of marijuana, oxycodone and heroin.

The alleged ringleader and some of his co-defendants were charged with multiple criminal counts in three separate cases, while other co-defendants were just charged in one case. It appears from court documents that the charges stemmed from alleged illegal activities that occurred on multiple different days.  The first date of incident appears to be April 30, and then there are multiple dates during May.  The last date is June 1, which is when the search warrants were executed and a few of the defendants (including the alleged ringleader) were arrested.  This means that that some of the defendants will face the difficult task of fighting the state in three separate cases, which seems unfair but is completely legal.  Police have no obligation to arrest a defendant the first time they commit a crime, but rather can wait days or even months to fully complete an investigation.  The defendant may be charged in different cases as long as the criminal acts were not part of a continuing course of action.  In this investigation the charges were separated by a few weeks each, which will likely stand up to any type of double jeopardy argument.

The lead defendant is charged with dozens of counts of CDS possession with intent to distribute and conspiracy to do the same.  Possession with intent to distribute narcotics such as heroin or cocaine is a felony with a 20-year maximum penalty.  Conspiracy has the same maximum penalty but is a common law offense that is classified as a misdemeanor.  At least two of the defendants are charged with illegal firearm possession and possession of a firearm during the commission of a drug trafficking offense. Each of these charges carries a minimum mandatory prison sentence, which cannot be waived by the judge and can run consecutive to any other count.  While this recent bust was large by Maryland standards, the police did not recover an amount of CDS required to trigger volume dealer or drug kingpin laws. These laws greatly enhance the penalty for possession or distribution of large amounts of drugs and place a 40-year maximum penalty on anyone who imports a large amount of CDS into the state. The threshold for these laws is 448 grams of cocaine, 28 grams of heroin and 50 pounds of marijuana, so based on the executed search warrants that we know of the defendants will not have to face these harsh drug laws.  Nonetheless the main defendants in this drug bust face a challenging battle ahead in the Circuit Court for Queen Anne’s County.