Articles Posted in Drug Arrests

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beer-931826__480-300x199Depending on where you live schools are either out or ending Friday, and the annual senior week pilgrimage to Ocean City is already underway. Pretty soon traffic will be piling up on Bay Bridge each weekend, and Route 50 will be jam packed with beachgoers. If you venture east not only will you be sharing the road with thousands of station wagons and SUVs filled to the brim with coolers and chairs, but also with state and local law enforcement.  Maryland State Police have officially launched their “Lose the Booze” initiative for 2018, and are teaming up with local law enforcement on the Eastern Shore to combat underage drinking and DUI.  The Easton Police Department, Talbot County Sheriff and Caroline County Sheriff have already joined the initiative, and other law enforcement agencies in the area will certainly be on high alert for all drug and alcohol related offenses.

Police on the Eastern Shore are notorious for making arrests on the few thoroughfares that head to Ocean City and the Delaware beaches.  Route 50 is really the only direct way to Ocean City for beachgoers from Maryland, Washington D.C. and Virginia.  Police patrolling 50, 301 and 404 will always profile a car full of young adults/ teenagers and look for any excuse to make a traffic stop to investigate further.  Out of state license plates do not help the cause either.  Pennsylvania vacationers avoid most of the Maryland highways on their way to the beach but their PA license plate still sticks out on Coastal Highway and other roads inland.  Most of the time it’s speeding, but an officer who locks on to a car is legally permitted to make a stop for any type of traffic infraction, no matter how minor.  Once the traffic stop begins the officer can then use his or her observations to develop probable cause for a search.

Upon making a traffic stop Eastern Shore police officers are immediately looking for signs of impairment.  All police are trained to look for clues of DUI or DWI but officers in Ocean City and the surrounding areas almost expect it.  This is especially true on weekends in the afternoon, evening, or even first thing in the morning for those drivers who have not quite slept it off.  Cops that encounter teenagers or anyone that looks under the age of 21 will be on high alert for alcohol in the vehicle. Minors in possession of alcohol can be charged with a civil citation and face up to a $500 fine, which all minors in a car could be subject to if the alcohol is found in the passenger compartment.

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prison-300x201The national prison population continues to decline, and for the first time in almost fifteen years the total number of inmates dipped below 1.5 million.  Last year Maryland lead the entire nation with a dramatic 10 percent reduction in prisoners, which brought the state inmate population down almost 2 thousand to a total of around 18 thousand.  While the simplest explanation for the decline is the passage of the Justice Reinvestment Act, a closer look reveals a variety of factors at play.

The Justice Reinvestment Act or JRA was a groundbreaking and massive piece of legislation that sought to reduce money and manpower dedicated to jailing defendants, and to divert these resources to treating and rehabilitating convicted defendants.  The JRA eliminated harsh mandatory sentences for repeat drug offenders convicted of non-violent offenses such as possession with intent to distribute narcotics.  The maximum penalty for possession of CDS not marijuana was also lowered to one year, which eliminated the possibility of a prison sentence for drug possession.  While most state correctional inmates are serving the original sentence handed down by the judge, a large portion are doing time for violating their probation. Lawmakers became aware that the sentences handed down for probation violations were getting out of control, and used the JRA to do something about it.

Each day dozens of defendants plea out to large suspended sentences in order to be released from jail, and many end up back in court on a violation.  Some of these violations are extremely minor, and could be avoided by more patient probation officers.  In the past defendants faced years in prison for extremely minor violations, but since the JRA went into effect there are now limits on the sentences handed down for these so called technical violations.  The limits are not binding on the judge, but are certainly persuasive when it comes to sentencing a probationer for a positive drug test, failing to complete treatment or not paying restitution.

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Ecstasy-300x174A host of potential modifications to existing Maryland criminal and traffic laws are currently up for debate in Annapolis. Many of these modifications could greatly affect the criminal justice system, while others will grab headlines but have very little impact in courthouses throughout the state. One bill that could have a huge impact on the justice system is a proposal currently in the House of Delegates that would effectively decriminalize the possession of small amounts of controlled substances. We’re not talking about marijuana here, as possession of a small or de minimis quantity of pot has already been modified from a jailable misdemeanor to a civil infraction. The lawmakers behind this bill want to decriminalize possession of small amounts of cocaine, heroin, MDMA, LSD, methadone and amphetamine as well.

The proposed House law is similar to the Marijuana decriminalization law that eliminated the possibility of jail time for possession of less than 10 grams. The ten-gram threshold was basically an arbitrary number that lawmakers agreed upon to differentiate between criminal possession and a civil infraction. Sponsoring delegates of the de minimis quantity bill have already settled on threshold amounts for all the other drugs covered under the proposed law. For cocaine, methadone and heroin lawmakers chose 300 milligrams, which is no more than a day’s supply for a regular user and much less than that for an addict. The threshold for MDMA and LSD would be five pills or tabs, and for amphetamine it would be 200 mg. If the law were to pass, anyone arrested with less than these amounts could not be arrested, but rather would receive a civil citation ranging from $100 to $500 depending on the prior number of violations. The law would also give the judge authority to order an offender under the age of 21 into a state approved drug education program.

If this bill were to become law it would have a groundbreaking affect on the amount of arrests across the state, and the criminal dockets (especially the bail review dockets) would shrink considerably, as drug offenses are still the most common genre of criminal cases in the district and circuit courts.  Decriminalizing simple drug possession could also impact the amount of probation violations throughout the state. The standard conditions of probation include the prohibition of using illegal substances such as cocaine and heroin, and while a civil citation for possession of one of these drugs would not be a new law violation it would qualify as a technical violation. Defendants on unsupervised probation would likely not be subject to any type of violation for receiving a civil drug possession citation.

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Heroin2-300x180Maryland law enforcement agencies have devoted millions of dollars to combat the state heroin epidemic but despite their efforts most agencies are still playing catch up when it comes to the infamous synthetic opioid known as fentanyl. The powerful substance is not a new commodity, though its popularity has skyrocketed over the last couple of years. Fentanyl is now so common that many street level narcotics dealers don’t even realize they’re selling it to customers looking to buy heroin. The availability of fentanyl is based on the most elementary economic principle of supply and demand. It began with the rebirth of heroin, which arguably was created by the nationwide crackdown of prescription narcotic abuse spearheaded by the DEA. Heroin became a viable replacement for the thousands of people that were once hooked on oxycodone and similar substances, but whom were not able to find a constant supply due to restrictions on pharmaceutical companies, pharmacies, and pain clinics.

While heroin became easier to obtain than powerful prescription narcotics, it is not a substance that’s native to the United States, and is still not readily available in large quantities. To fill the void, drug dealers began to realize that mixing small amounts of synthetic fentanyl would increase or keep the potency of their product while decreasing the amount of heroin necessary. In some cases synthetic fentanyl has completely replaced heroin on the streets, as most users cannot even tell the difference. Add to the equation that synthetic fentanyl is exponentially stronger than heroin, thus requiring smaller amounts per street level capsule, and the fact that there is an unlimited supply from illegal laboratories overseas, and it’s easy to see how fentanyl became an epidemic almost overnight. Demand is as high as ever and the supply keeps coming in from all corners of the globe, a reality that is not lost on law enforcement agencies in Maryland.

Police departments around have ramped up their efforts to take down fentanyl suppliers, and this past week the state police announced the arrest of a major supplier on the Eastern Shore. A 37-year old Salisbury man was taken into custody and charged with several CDS violations including possession of a large amount, manufacturing and possession with intent to distribute narcotics. After tracking the man for a few months police ultimately executed search warrants that yielded close to one pound of an especially potent fentanyl compound. Police also recovered marijuana and drug paraphernalia they say is consistent with distribution. The large amount charges were unaffected by the justice reinvestment act that became law in October, and still carry mandatory prison sentences upon conviction. The defendant is still being held at the Wicomico County Detention Center, and has a preliminary hearing set for early January in the district court. Prosecutors will no doubt try to make an example of this defendant, thus making a competent defense attorney extremely important.

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apple-256261_1280-300x199Public school officials in Wicomico County have confirmed the arrest of one of their teachers for numerous drug offenses, including five felony drug violations. The 51-year old female Salisbury special education teacher was arrested by deputy sheriffs as she drove off school property, and a search of her car allegedly yielded over 100 capsules of heroin along with several hundred oxycodone pills. Police also recovered suboxone strips and $3,000 cash. She was taken to the detention center and booked on numerous Maryland drug crimes including possession with intent to distribute narcotics and CDS possession of a large amount. The latter charge carries a 5-year mandatory prison sentence upon conviction, and also the possibility of a $100,000 fine. Just one day after her arrest the teacher was released from the detention center on a $50,000 bail set by a district court judge. A preliminary hearing is currently set for December 7th, but this hearing will likely be cancelled in lieu of the State’s Attorney filing a criminal information or bringing the case before a grand jury.

In addition to the drug crimes mentioned above the teacher also faces two counts of possession with intent to distribute on school property under 5-627 of the criminal code. Many states have crafted laws that impose additional sanctions for conducting drug activity on school property, and Maryland also has similar laws regarding firearms and other weapons. The statute defines school property as the grounds of an elementary or secondary school plus a 1000-foot radius extending outward in all directions. At trial the state would introduce a certified copy of a map depicting the boundary to prove the offense occurred on school property. A defendant found guilty of this offense faces a 20-year maximum prison sentence, which is the same as possession with intent to distribute narcotics. There is a 5-year mandatory sentence, but it only applies to repeat offenders. The real kicker is that a sentence imposed under the school drug dealing law must be consecutive with any other sentenced imposed in the case. A defendant found guilty of this offense thus faces double the amount of time he or she normally would in a possession with intent case. This consecutive sentencing provision gives the law teeth, and in theory should act as a true deterrent.

The teacher has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the court case, but an internal investigation by the school board could be wrapped up much sooner. It appears the Salisbury woman was already given a second chance, as she received a probation before judgment for a theft charge in Howard County back in 2011. That case was eligible for expungement, but now that the teacher has pending charges it appears the theft case will stay part of the public record. You cannot expunge a criminal case in Maryland while you have unresolved criminal cases or if you have received a conviction for a different case between the time you became eligible and the time you filed for expungement. The Blog will follow this Wicomico County case and others involving public officials or government employees. The media seems to really grasp hold of these cases, but our hope is always that these defendants will be treated as any other defendant that enters a criminal court.

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heroinbust-300x198The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York recently announced indictments of ten individuals for their roles in an East Coast heroin trafficking ring. Three of the defendants hail from Annapolis, which officials allege is where the heroin began the journey to its final destination in Schenectady, NY. After arriving in this suburb of Albany various New York based co-conspirators allegedly packaged the drugs and sold them in the Plattsburgh area, just a few hours drive from the Canadian border. The defendants vary in age, but each is under 35, and one was actually a state corrections officer until his arrest back in June. The three Maryland based defendants are all under the age of 30, with the youngest being just 19. This teenage defendant now faces between 5 and 40 years in federal prison, with the 5-year number representing the minimum mandatory sentence that must be imposed should he be convicted.

The other local co-conspirators include a 24-year old male who is facing a drug trafficking sentence of 10 years to life, and a 28-year old female who is facing up to 20 years for conspiracy to distribute narcotics. The 24-year old defendant is no stranger to the Maryland state judicial system, as he pled guilty to CDS possession with intent to distribute in Anne Arundel County back in 2012. His probation was violated shortly thereafter and an 18-month jail sentence followed. In addition to the federal indictment, the 24-year old is also set for an August trial date in Annapolis for numerous drug charges stemming from two separate state court cases. These charges are all drug related, and include distribution of narcotics and CDS possession of a large amount. The other Annapolis based defendants have relatively minor criminal records, which include two cases where each charged the other for assault. Prosecutors will likely end up dropping these cases, as the pair could assert their mutual 5th Amendment rights and choose not to testify. Regardless of what happens in these assault cases the defendants clearly have bigger issues to deal with up north.

The announcement by the Northern District of New York that a large heroin trafficking ring originated right here in Anne Arundel County came just as the governor announced 2018 allotments for the emergency opioid abuse funds. Last year the governor pledged $50 million to battle the record breaking heroin and fentanyl overdoses, and the money will be dispersed over the course of 5 years to various state and local agencies. The majority of the cash next year is going to inpatient treatment programs, naloxone supplies, public awareness platforms for opioid abuse and law enforcement efforts to dismantle drug trafficking rings. Baltimore City has been hit especially hard by drug overdoses, and the state has responded by allocating $2 million for a city crisis center. The Blog will continue to monitor this federal case and other state cases related to drug trafficking. We anticipate more drug busts making news headlines in the coming months as law enforcement agencies will be eager to show the governor the funding is being put to good use. However, it remains to be seen whether the emergency funding will begin to reverse the overdose numbers that are sadly trending in the wrong direction.

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pills_money-300x199The Maryland State Police recently announced the indictments of 18 defendants in a large drug conspiracy that spanned numerous counties and stretched into Delaware. The investigation began last fall state when police investigators received information that a male suspect was involved in a drug trafficking ring operating out of Queen Anne’s County. Narcotics detectives had reason to believe that this particular suspect, who lived in Kent County, assisted in the importation and distribution of large amounts of opioids including oxycodone, fentanyl, morphine, methadone and heroin throughout the state. Further investigation also revealed this suspect’s alleged involvement with another Kent County man in cocaine trafficking. Both male suspects were self employed, which further peaked the interests of law enforcement officers about the possibility of ongoing money laundering. As the investigation progressed, police officers from numerous jurisdictions including Talbot County and Anne Arundel County coordinated their efforts to develop more suspects in the case. Delaware State Police, Natural Resources Police, and local departments from Chestertown and Centreville also assisted, and the culmination of this investigation occurred this past week with the announcement of 18 arrests from indictments in the Circuit Court for Queen Anne’s County.

The two original suspects now face over 50 charges apiece, including multiple counts for conspiracy to distribute narcotics and CDS. According to the State Police report these two defendants allegedly conspired to import over 3.5 pounds of cocaine and 5000 pills, including 4000 of oxycodone and 50 pills each of morphine and fentanyl in just one 6-week period. The street value of these drugs is estimated at $130,000. Oddly, neither defendant faces any felony charges on these indictments; Maryland law classifies all conspiracy crimes as common law misdemeanors. But despite being misdemeanors, many of these counts carry 20-year maximum penalties, which state prosecutors will undoubtedly use as leverage to during plea negotiations. The extraordinarily high bails, one being $250,000 and the other being $350,000 also reflect the severity of these charges. There does not appear to be any physical evidence directly attributed to the two main defendants at this time (hence the conspiracy charges), though law enforcement did execute numerous search and seizure warrants and recovered a great deal of contraband. All told, there were 14 firearms, hundreds of pills, crack cocaine, marijuana and almost $100,000 dollars in U.S. currency recovered. Police also seized 15 vehicles that may be kept and then auctioned under state forfeiture laws.

The Blog will continue to follow this case as it progresses through the circuit court. It will be interesting to see whether there are any suppression issues raised in pre-trial proceedings, as it is unclear how police received all of their information. In any large-scale criminal investigation police often receive much of their intelligence from confidential informants, though CI’s alone will not suffice if the kingpins are careful. Prior coordinated law enforcement operations on the Eastern Shore have benefitted from the use of wiretap warrants, which could have sealed the fate of the defendants in this case.

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drugs-22237_640-300x198Lawmakers have made numerous attempts to curb the heroin epidemic in Maryland, and the governor has gone so far as to pronounce a state of emergency as overdose numbers continue to spike. Some Annapolis legislators considered passing a law that would allow the state to prosecute drug dealers under an enhanced 30-year jail penalty if their product caused a death, and we may see similar bills hit the state house floor in the future. State law enforcement is also joining in the fight, as Baltimore murder police are now beginning to investigate drug overdoses for potential links to dealers. The city police commissioner recently announced that five detectives working out of the homicide department will respond to both fatal and non-fatal overdoses. Baltimore is not the first jurisdiction to seek criminal evidence at overdose scenes, as Harford County narcotics detectives have already been showing up with first responder medics for the last two years. The Harford County Sheriff’s Office though was forced to scale this initiative back, as the sheer amount of overdoses proved too tough to manage.

State’s Attorney’s Offices around Maryland have also tried to do their part in furthering the agenda to combat the overdose epidemic. We previously posted about a defendant in Worcester County that was convicted and sentenced under state manslaughter law for selling heroin that ultimately resulted in a deadly overdose. Now another state prosecutor’s office has reported a manslaughter conviction in a CDS narcotics distribution case, and the defendant received the maximum penalty provided by the law. A Waldorf woman was just sentenced to 10 years in state prison in the Circuit Court for Charles County for selling fentanyl to man who later died of a drug overdose. The woman allegedly told the deceased buyer that her product was heroin when she knew that it was actually fentanyl, a far more powerful narcotic. This was reportedly the first time a defendant was convicted for manslaughter for selling drugs involved in an overdose in Charles County. The 34 year-old woman was also recently sentenced to 14 years in prison for another unrelated drug distribution charge, and was convicted and sentenced to probation on a third controlled dangerous substance case.

Law enforcement and state prosecutors may continue to seek enhanced penalties for drug dealers whose buyers overdose, but the deterrent effect of these measures is tough gauge. Harford County made a legitimate effort to seek out and prosecute dealers by investigating overdoses, but after two years their fatal and non-fatal overdose numbers remain largely unchanged. Efforts in Baltimore City may suffer the same fate, as the heroin epidemic is not under control in Maryland or anywhere else in America for that matter. In response to the public outcry government officials such as lawmakers, police chiefs and state’s attorneys tend to take the easy way out by announcing new initiatives to target suppliers. But a press release or two about a dealer serving extra time in prison gives these officials a false sense of accomplishment. The overdose numbers are not decreasing, and rather than targeting the endless supply of small time dealers officials should focus more on education, treatment and perhaps safe zones for users. While legalization and strict regulation of heroin would eliminate the type of street overdoses in the Worcester and Charles County cases, this is not a realistic solution at this point in time. The fact that legalization does not even warrant serious discussion is unfortunate, but there will come a time when government officials will have no choice but to consider it.

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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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packs-163497_1280Despite years of scrutiny and two legislative task force inquiries the Maryland cash bail system has remained untouched. Thousands of defendants sit in jails statewide for months on end awaiting trial simply because they cannot afford to post bail. Many end up being released after their cases are dismissed, and others remain until accepting a guilty plea to time served or probation. In some cases the bails set by court commissioners or judges are exorbitantly high and in other cases the defendants simply cannot scrape together any amount of cash or collateral for a bail bondsman. The bail bond industry has been raking in profits for decades by preying off the desperate desire of defendants to get out of jail, and the industry’s hefty contributions to lawmakers have largely shielded it from reproach. But within the last month two influential members of the state’s legal community have spoken out against the current cash bail system, and their words have already translated to real change in the district and circuit criminal courts.

In mid October the newly elected Attorney General sent a memo to five state lawmakers declaring that judges and court commissioners must consider the defendant’s finances when determining an appropriate bail. The memo goes on to say that if bail is too high for the defendant the Court of Appeals in Annapolis would likely find it unlawful, and further states that an amount too high for the defendant to post would be excessive and a violation of Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution. While the Attorney General’s memo was advisory and did not establish any type of rule of law, the Chief Judge of the District Court of Maryland took notice and sent a memo of his own. This memo instructs other District Court judges to treat monetary bail as a means to insure the defendant’s return to court, and not as a means to assure the public safety. Defense attorneys have been making this argument for years to court commissioners and judges across the state with little success. Too often our state judges use high bail amounts as a means to keep a defendant in custody pending his or her trial. These excessive bails are punitive and unconstitutional, but have become status quo in Maryland courts.

Excessive bails are set by judges and court commissioners all over the state, but this epidemic is particularly out of control in Baltimore City and to a lesser extent Baltimore County. Defendants arrested on drug charges such as possession with intent to distribute are often held on six-figure bail amounts, and end up paying thousands to bail bondsmen who lure customers with 1% down payment plans. It is not only drug charges that result in outrageous bail amounts, but also gun charges and alleged violent offenses where there is little objective evidence of guilt. The roots of the problem are the judges and commissioners that have been approaching bail hearings entirely wrong for years; they read the charges and set a bail amount solely on the alleged facts in the statement of probable cause. It becomes lost that defendants are to be presumed innocent at every step of the judicial process, including at a bail hearing.  But this finally appears to be changing as the Chief Judge’s memorandum is starting to show its influence in court. Defendants that do not pose a threat to the community and are not a legitimate flight risk are being released on their own recognizance. This falls in line with the least onerous means to assure the return of the defendant to court. Some defendants who are determined to be serious dangers to the community are being held in custody, but the judges are now putting their findings on the record, as instructed by the Chief Judge.