Articles Posted in Drug Arrests

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drug-1070943__340While decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana in Maryland was a major victory for drug reform, some state lawmakers are far from satisfied. The last year has been productive, with medical marijuana perhaps less than a year away from going live, and marijuana paraphernalia being decriminalized. But arcane drug laws have done little to reduce the availability and abuse of controlled substances, and incarcerations for non-violent drug offenses continues to cost state and local governments millions of taxpayer dollars. In an effort to take drug reform to new heights one state delegate has introduced a package of bills, which focuses on prevention and treatment instead of punishment. This common sense approach acknowledges that eradication of controlled substance use is not a realistic goal, and as a result advocates expending government resources on mitigating the effects of inevitable drug use. As of now there are three bills that will hit the House floor this legislative season, with the perhaps the most controversial scheduled for a hearing in early March.

House Bill 1119 represents an unequivocal effort to decriminalize the simple possession of virtually all common street drugs. Simple possession, which is referred to as de minimis possession in the bill, is the same benchmark that was used to decriminalize marijuana. The legislature chose the arbitrary amount of ten grams as their benchmark for de minimis pot possession. This amount was likely a compromise between lawmakers searching for a line that could separate personal use with intent to distribute, but other than the fact that ten is a nice round number it makes absolutely no sense. Many marijuana users prefer to buy larger amounts at a time to minimize the number of purchases they need to make. It would hardly be out of the ordinary for a moderate user to buy an ounce (28 grams) or more at a time, and this amount would in no way indicate a desire to distribute for profit. Further, marijuana is rarely sold by ten-gram increments, especially not in America. Still though, setting the bar at ten grams is better than the alternative of initiating criminal charges for anyone possessing as little as one tiny bud.

The proposed house bill expands upon de minimis exception for marijuana to include benchmarks of two grams of cocaine, one gram of heroin, ten tablets of meth, .0015 grams of LSD or acid, and 1 gram of methadone / amphetamine. Possession of less than these amounts of each drug would not be a crime under Maryland law if the bill were to pass. These amounts are more realistic as indicative of personal use than the ten-gram cutoff for pot because they have not been watered down by endless debate and so called compromise. The bill would eliminate a large burden on the criminal justice system of prosecuting drug users who need help rather than jail time, but sadly it has little chance of becoming law in the next couple of years. Maryland has not shown a willingness to be ultra progressive with respect to drug policy and it is highly unlikely that Annapolis lawmakers would be the first to decriminalize cocaine and heroin possession. On the other hand, this bill could generate enough attention to start the discussion, which at this point is the best we can hope for this year.

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drugs-908533_960_720The Baltimore Police recently announced the completion of a fairly large heroin bust, which led to two arrests and the recovery of drugs, cash, and a firearm. This particular bust was not the product of a long-term police investigation, but rather it was based on a tip from a concerned Greenspring Avenue neighbor in the northwest part of the city. Metro Crime Stoppers received the tip and relayed it over to the police for further investigation. Officers staked out the home of the alleged drug dealer, and then followed him as he drove away. A short time later cops made a traffic stop of the suspect’s vehicle, and conveniently had the K-9 unit on standby ready to conduct a drug sniff. After the dog hit a positive on the car the man was taken into custody while the police sought a search warrant for his home. The warrant was signed and upon executing the search police found 4 kilograms of heroin valued at upwards of $400,000. State and local police officers typically use the street value of the drugs in their reports and press releases, which is based on the optimum profitability achieved by selling small quantities. City police officers also seized $80,000 cash and a stolen handgun from out of state. There is no final word on whether the dealer will be charged in Baltimore City, or whether the feds will take on the prosecution.

This recent drug bust comes at an interesting time for crime fighting in Baltimore City. The police department has consistently stated a desire to focus their efforts on combatting violent crimes such as robbery, assault, and murder. The violent crime rates in the city are alarmingly high and have shown little signs of improving. On the other hand there is no chance the police would fail to act on a large-scale drug tip. These busts generally create positive news headlines for the department, while at the same time taking well funded and often well armed criminals off the street.

Anonymous tips do not always pan out and are sometimes an invitation for the police to violate a person’s rights, but it seems that this particular case was handled by the book. It is always suspicious when cops are performing surveillance one minute and the next are conducting a traffic stop with a K-9 unit on hand. But these so called pretextual stops, where a driver is stopped for a minor (or made up) traffic violation for the sole purpose of advancing an unrelated criminal investigation, are legal under the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Constitution. The only requirement is that the traffic stop be legitimate, which obviously gives police way too much leeway to see things like a suspected drug dealer “rolling through” a stop sign, making a right on a red arrow, or going 11 over the speed limit. But challenges to the traffic stop will usually fall on deaf ears on the bench, and as long as cops wait for a search warrant the evidence will usually be held admissible. Police are well aware that suspects are most vulnerable when they are on the road due to numerous automobile exceptions to search and seizure rights. This is why many of the largest drug busts begin as a simple traffic stop.

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pills-943764_640Maryland law enforcement’s war on heroin has reached new levels, as one county recently conducted highly questionable road checkpoints targeting the dangerous drug. The checkpoints were set up this past week on various thoroughfares in Harford County including Route 1, Route 24 and Route 40, which police classify as high volume drug trafficking routes. The trafficking designation is more a result of these roads being the major thoroughfares in and out of town and for the high volume of motorists they carry, but police seem to enjoy their labels and designations in order to stir up support for their operations. The checkpoints this past week produced ten arrests, with four of those being drug related. The arrests yielded marijuana, prescription pills, drug paraphernalia, a switchblade knife, and $7,000 in cash. The questions being asked in the wake of these unorthodox checkpoints are many, and include whether the efforts of law enforcement were worth it and whether their tactics were even legal.

The Harford County Sheriff’s Office ran point on the checkpoint with the help of numerous other agencies such as the Bel Air, Aberdeen, and State Police departments. The transportation authority police, who always jumps at a chance to get involved in highway related drug trafficking busts also helped out. Cleary there were abundant law enforcement efforts devoted to the checkpoints, which means thousands of tax payer dollars and manpower resources that were unavailable for other tasks. In addition a couple thousand motorists were subjected to police intrusion as they moved innocently about. It’s safe to say that these checkpoints were not even close to being worth four drug arrests, some cash and a switchblade. DUI checkpoints are notoriously ineffective at achieving their goal and this makeshift heroin checkpoint seems even worse. The amount of police manpower it takes to run a checkpoint never adds up to actual arrest numbers, and the prevention factor is all hypothetical. The dozens of officers working these checkpoints would undoubtedly have made more arrests if they were simply working standard road patrol shifts. Not to mention avoiding the in your face police state law enforcement tactics that should only be used in extreme circumstances.

police-224426_640The question of the drug checkpoint’s legality is slightly more complicated, and despite gaining the State’s Attorney’s approval the checkpoints may have been unconstitutional. This means that the 10 arrests might not produce any convictions for prosecutors. Drug focused checkpoints have been declared unconstitutional in the past, and DUI checkpoints have numerous requirements that need to be met in order to be deemed legal. Cops in this particular operation tried to distinguish their actions from DUI checkpoints and argued that no motorists were actually randomly stopped. But judges, and especially federal judges, frown upon police activity that tries to outsmart the constitution and the case precedent that interprets it. The makeshift checkpoints may not have mirrored the intrusions of standard DUI checkpoints, but this doesn’t mean that police can avoid checkpoint requirements for legality. One Harford sheriff said the operation was nothing like a DUI checkpoint, which is a naïve and juvenile statement considering the first thought in everyone’s mind was to compare this week’s operations to DUI checkpoints. The Blog may post a follow up article if we see more of these controversial drug checkpoints pop up around the state.

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pills-943764_640The Maryland State Police recently announced one of the largest drug busts on the Eastern Shore over the last few years. On Tuesday a combined law enforcement initiative known as the Wicomico County Narcotics Task Force executed a search warrant at the home of a suspected heroin dealer. Two suspects, a 33 year-old male and a 33-year-old female, were arrested after police found 2.5 pounds of heroin, with a street value of approximately $500,000. Law enforcement also seized over $100,000 in cash, scales, plastic baggies, drug paraphernalia, ammunition, and three firearms. One of the firearms was a .22 caliber automatic assault rifle with a high capacity magazine and an obliterated serial number that prevented it from being identified. The other two firearms were handguns that had been reported stolen. One was a .357 revolver taken from Somerset County, and the other was a .40 caliber semi automatic pistol with an illegal extended high capacity magazine. The pistol had been reported stolen from Worcester County. The male suspect is being held without bail at the Wicomico County Detention Center, while the female was released after posting a $25,000 bail. Both have preliminary hearings set in the District Court, which will likely be cancelled after the cases are presented to a grand jury.

The investigation of the male suspect began back in January of this year, and law enforcement soon realized that they were potentially dealing with a large-scale heroin distributor. The narcotics task force, made up of state and local police departments including the Salisbury and Fruitland police departments and the Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office, conducted extensive surveillance of the male suspect and the residence that was searched. Police likely used multiple confidential informants and undercover officers to maximize the amount of evidence used in securing the search warrant. Nobody was injured when the search warrant was carried out this week, although a dog was shot and killed when it allegedly ran toward an undercover officer in an aggressive manor.

Upon consulting with the State’s Attorney’s Office, police eventually charged the pair with multiple drug and weapon related felonies, some of which carry minimum mandatory prison sentences. Both are currently charged with a violation of the CDS possession of a large amount statute that is part of the state law against volume dealers. This law is particularly harsh when it comes to heroin and other opioids, as only 28 grams are required to trigger a large amount charge. For comparison sake the 2.5 pounds that police allegedly found in this bust amounts to over 1,100 grams. This statute provides a minimum punishment of 5 years in prison, which upon conviction cannot be suspended and defendants are not eligible for parole. The pair is also charged with three counts of possession of a firearm in a drug trafficking crime, and each of these charges also carries a minimum 5 years without parole. Other charges include possession with intent to distribute and illegal possession of a firearm. The male suspect is also charged with firearm possession by a convicted felon because he was found guilty of felony CDS distribution of narcotics in 2004.

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police-780322_640During the off-season Ocean City is a quiet beach town with a population of around ten thousand residents, and relatively low police activity. In the summer months though the town transforms into a bustling city of over 300,000. Most of the summer visitors come with family to enjoy Maryland’s famous 10-mile stretch of beach, but there’s also the crowd that comes with a different purpose. The nightlife along coastal highway is enough motivation for many to brave the Route 50 speed traps, or the stop and go traffic coming from Pennsylvania down through Delaware. As is usually the case, packed bars and party hungry tourists attract the attention of police officers. Some officers are simply out there to keep the peace, but others are hungry for some police action. The 100 plus “seasonal” officers that the town of Ocean City employs each summer to supplement the regular force would probably fall into the latter category. Thousands of partygoers plus an increased law enforcement presence makes it hardly a surprise that the OC Police recently conducted a major undercover drug operation.

The undercover drug operation lasted throughout June and yielded 37 arrests. There were 23 controlled drug transactions between cops and unsuspecting dealers, which were used as evidence for distribution charges and other CDS offenses. Police also seized physical evidence including marijuana, cocaine, firearms and cash. Almost all of the defendants are from Maryland, though a few are Pennsylvania residents, and 6 of the 37 were arrested and charged as juveniles. The adult defendants range in age from 18 all the way to 46, but most are 23 or younger. All but three of the adults are facing felony charges that will likely be set for preliminary hearings in the Ocean City District Court sometime in August. Most of these cases will then be indicted or filed in the Worcester County Circuit Court over the next few weeks. Two of the cases are misdemeanor weapons charges and one is a disorderly conduct, which could be handled in the district court right in town.

This is definitely not the first, and will not be the last time Ocean City Police put together an organized undercover drug operation. Each summer there are dozens of drug arrests that involve an undercover cop posing as a party going tourist looking to get high. Most of these controlled deals involve a team of around four officers. One or two are usually dressed in street clothes, while another couple are watching or recording from a police car. The cops posing as potential buyers will typically meet their suspects in crowded areas such as the boardwalk, and then lure them onto the side streets to complete the deal. After the transaction is finished the uniformed officers will then jump out to make the arrest. In some instances police will not make an arrest right away, but will wait until the entire operation is over so as not to jeopardize the identity of the undercovers. But these situations are usually reserved for known dealers, and require a more patient approach that might not be practical to law enforcement in a tourist town. The Blog will follow these cases as they progress through the county courts, and may post a follow up article if necessary.

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seal-42280_640.pngThe FBI and the Montgomery County Police recently announced the break up of a large-scale drug ring operating out of a residential area near Rockville. Monday during the early morning hours, as many as 100 state, local and federal law enforcement officers raided numerous townhomes in the Bel Pre development, as well as a business in Prince George’s County. The raids yielded a narcotics, multiple firearms, and over $70,000 in cash. All told 18 people were arrested, and now the defendants face felony drug charges in federal court. All but one of the defendants resides in Maryland, with the non-resident being from Pennsylvania. The defendants are charged with conspiracy to distribute heroin and cocaine, and could face other charges based on the evidence that was seized.
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tow.pngIt almost seems like a crime in and of itself. A police officer arrests a person for suspicion of committing a drug offense. Then a few hours (hopefully not longer) later upon being released he or she finds out that the police have kept some of their property. Property that is entirely legal on its own. Typically it’s something small like a few bucks or a cell phone. But in some cases it could be thousands of dollars, a car, boat, or even a house. Time and time again the courts have upheld law enforcement’s right to confiscate a suspect’s property. It is widely understood, if not accepted, that a cop can take a person’s otherwise legal property if that officer believes it will be evidence in a criminal prosecution. Unfortunately this is hardly the only justification an officer needs to take a citizen’s stuff. For decades the law of civil forfeiture has driven defendant’s, their families, and criminal defense lawyers crazy. In a nutshell forfeiture gives police the right to confiscate property they believe is being used to further criminal activity. The definition is vague and general, and the standard of proof is low. Forfeiture is easily abused by law enforcement, and when it is, legally thievery is the result.
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parcel.pngOver the last few decades mail became one of the preferred methods of transporting marijuana across state lines. The carrier was irrelevant, as dealers and smokers would typically use FedEx, UPS, and the postal service to transport their stash across the country. Law enforcement eventually caught on, and began targeting packages at sorting facilities of all the major mail carriers. The targeted packages usually met a certain criteria; they were often from states such as California, Oregon, and Colorado, where marijuana was plentiful and relatively cheap. The packages also fit size and weight criteria, and had common markings and similar types of intended addresses. Upon identifying suspicious packages, law enforcement would order a K9 sniff. If law enforcement officers confirmed their suspicions, they would react in a variety of different ways depending on the agency, suspect, and the amount of pot at issue.
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drugs-22237_640.jpgJust months ago United State’s Attorney’s Office praised the work of law enforcement in ending a complex Washington D.C. heroin and cocaine trafficking ring. The investigation and subsequent prosecution led to 14 felony convictions, with most of the defendants ending up with prison sentences. But as of this week, only one defendant remains jailed, and the other 13 have been released from prison. Last week a federal judge threw their cases out upon recommendation by the very prosecutors who worked diligently to secure these convictions less than a year ago. The exact reasons for this dramatic sequence of events is unknown, but we do know that at least one corrupt FBI agent participated in the investigation. This particular agent, a 33-year old named Matthew Lowry, was found slumped over in his car with evidence bags containing heroin and firearms seized from the investigation. While this incident alone could create enough suspicion of wrongdoing to warrant new trials in the related cases, it’s more likely that the prosecutors became aware of far greater corruption. Corruption that prompted immediate and unfettered action.
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coke4.jpgLaw enforcement officers make dozens of drug distribution busts each day in Maryland. State and local police handle most, as only a select few of these busts are carried out by federal law enforcement. Federal agencies such as the DEA could investigate and prosecute any would be drug offender under federal law, but they often defer to state level cops unless the case is large and involves multiple states. Even when these busts are juicy enough for the feds, the media rarely picks up on them, and most go unnoticed by the public. Therefore when the United States Attorney’s Office issues a press release about a drug bust that is picked up by almost every local news agency, you know the facts must be particularly scandalous. This past week’s Baltimore drug bust definitely fit the bill, as assistant US attorney Rosenstein announced indictments in a multi-state cocaine trafficking operation, which involved tons of drugs, millions of dollars, fancy cars, and money laundering. The investigation had everything the media could ask for in a story, and the bulk of the alleged criminal activity occurred right here in Baltimore.
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