State lawmakers have officially closed the books on the 2015 legislative session, and there will be a host of new criminal and traffic bills reaching the governor’s desk in the next few weeks. Some have progressed through both chambers with little fanfare, and others have attracted media attention from the first reading onward. The decriminalization of marijuana paraphernalia was a hot topic even before lawmakers convened in January, so naturally this bill received a great deal of attention throughout the legislative process. Numerous amendments were proposed and rejected, but the final bill is concise and pointed, and only modifies two existing controlled dangerous substance laws. These are section 5-601, which deals with possession, and 5-619, which deals with paraphernalia. The drug possession law is simply modified to include a section that makes smoking marijuana in public a civil offense punishable by a $500 fine, while the paraphernalia law is modified with one small paragraph stating that criminal punishments do not apply to paraphernalia involving the use or possession of marijuana. Thus, come October pot paraphernalia will no longer be a crime in Maryland.
While the paraphernalia debate certainly dominated the criminal law media attention in Annapolis, there are other impactful bills headed to Governor Hogan for approval. One calls for the modification of minimum mandatory prison sentences in certain serious drug crimes involving distribution. This bill allows a judge to depart from a minimum mandatory sentence in lieu of drug treatment, and in other cases where a min. man. would result in a substantial injustice to the defendant, or would not be necessary to protect the public. Yet another bill with relevance to drug crimes would prohibit law enforcement from initiating forfeiture proceedings in drug arrests unless the value of the property is over $300. This is an attempt by the legislature to curtail the unfortunate practice of police officers taking private property that has little or no connection to any sort of criminal activity. The General Assembly also passed a bill that would allow a defendant to apply to expunge a criminal case for an offense that is no longer classified as a crime under Maryland law. This will surely result in an influx of expungement applications for cases involving possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana and possession of marijuana paraphernalia, and is a logical and just step that lawmakers in every state should consider.
Other criminal law bills that have passed both the House and Senate include rescheduling of court hearings after failure to appear bench warrants have been served, modification of expungements in juvenile cases, and defendant asset freezes in financial crimes against vulnerable adults. There is also a bill awaiting approval from the governor that makes it a felony to commit an assault upon a first responder who is engaged in providing medical care or rescue services. Last but not least, there has been a long overdue modification of the maximum allowable speed limit on Maryland interstate highways and expressways. Come this fall we may start seeing 70 mile per hour speed limit signs replacing the previous maximum of 65. Now if state lawmakers could only do something about the number of speed traps on the way to Ocean City we would really have reason for excitement.
Benjamin Herbst represents defendants charged with all types of offenses, including drug
crimes and traffic violations. Contact Benjamin anytime for a free consultation at 410-207-2598.
Bills passed by both chambers in the 2015 Maryland legislative session, mgaleg.maryland.gov.