Articles Posted in Gun Crimes

Published on:

handgun-231699_640-300x169Maryland has some of the toughest gun laws in the country, and a large number of these laws are designed to punish people for illegal possession of handguns, rifles and shotguns. There are numerous different provisions in the state code that address gun possession, and there are a few that are somewhat obscure. Most people know that being convicted of a felony prohibits a person from ever possessing a gun, but this is far from the only restriction placed on a former defendant in a criminal case. The public safety code actually lists more of the impactful gun laws in the state than the criminal law code, and thus it can be hard for layperson to even find the Maryland gun laws. Remember that not being aware of the laws will not buy you any sympathy in court, as the classic saying of ignorance of the law is not an excuse comes to mind. If you cannot find the gun laws that may apply to you then reach out to an attorney just to be sure. The following is a brief overview of some of the Maryland gun laws that may apply to normal everyday people.

As of a couple years ago anyone who wants to purchase a handgun in Maryland has to apply for and be granted a license or HQL. The HQL laws do not apply to rifles and shotguns, so you can walk into any sporting goods store or gun shop, fill out a form and leave with a powerful firearm. Clearly, the state legislature as singled out and targeted handguns, but this doesn’t mean the laws are relaxed when it comes to rifles and shotguns. Many people believe that the strict Maryland gun laws only apply to handguns due to the notoriety of the HQL and all that it entails, but this could not be further from the truth. If you are prohibited from possessing a handgun you are undoubtedly also prohibited from possessing a rifle, shotgun or any other type of firearm. This includes muzzle loaders or even antiques that are in a case or mounted on a wall. If it fires a bullet then it’s a firearm. It may be easier to buy a hunting rifle but it definitely is not safer to possess one if you’ve been convicted of a criminal charge.

Without a doubt the most common reason a person would be prohibited from possessing a firearm is if they have been convicted of a disqualifying crime. Under Maryland law a disqualifying crime means any felony and any misdemeanor that carries more than a two-year maximum penalty. If you pled guilty to any offense, no matter how long ago it occurred you should check the exact statute to make sure you can legally possess a gun. Even if you never travel with a gun it is not advisable to have one in your home if you have been convicted of a crime. You never know when a police officer could enter your home, as we have seen cases where police show up on an unrelated matter and find guns. Probation before judgment or PBJ is not considered a conviction for gun possession purposes unless the PBJ was granted in a domestically related second degree assault charge. Anyone who has faced a domestic violence charge should contact a lawyer before deciding to possess a firearm in Maryland. In addition all individuals who have an active peace order or protective order are not allowed to possess any type of firearm until the order expires are is withdrawn by a judge.

Published on:

money-943782_960_720-300x225The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland recently announced that a federal jury came back with guilty verdicts for two Washington D.C. men charged with committing armed robberies in Prince George’s County. The verdict came after seven days of trial at the U.S. District Court in Greenbelt. According to evidence presented by the government at trial the two men robbed an auto repair business in Clinton, Maryland back in November of 2016, and then just four days later robbed a barbershop close to the D.C. line in Seat Pleasant. During the first robbery the men entered the shop brandishing firearms and ordered the two employees to the ground and stole their money. One employee was bound with zip ties while the other fought back and was shot. The shooting victim was severely injured and according to the government is now paralyzed. After committing the auto repair shop robbery the co-defendants fled in a stolen car and were not captured.

Four days later the same two co-defendants committed another armed robbery in nearby Seat Pleasant, and this time it didn’t end so well for the pair and their unidentified getaway driver. After robbing patrons at a barbershop in a similar manner as the auto repair shop, the co-defendants fled in a stolen minivan. Only this time, police spotted the getaway car at an intersection and attempted to make a stop. The three robbers tried to flee from police and bailed out of the van to attempt to run away on foot, but two were captured almost immediately and other was captured a short time later. Upon searching the stolen van police recovered two loaded 9 mm handguns, one of which had an obliterated serial number.

While one of the defendants was awaiting trial in jail he apparently urged multiple acquaintances to visit the barbershop and dissuade witnesses from testifying. These conversations were recorded and introduced into evidence by the government, which led to a conviction for witness tampering in addition to multiple other convictions including armed robbery, use of a firearm in a crime of violence and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Inmates that are incarcerated pending trial often make the mistake of assuming their jailhouse conversations are private, when in fact the government is always listening. These conversations are admissible in court, and are frequently used to convict defendants in cases where other evidence may be lacking. Defendants and their families should conduct their conversations as if the prosecutor or law enforcement were right there in the room, as there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in jail.

Published on:

pistol-1350484_1280-300x200Last week Baltimore joined nine other urban areas in the nation as the newest members of the National Public Safety Partnership. The NPP was created in 2017 to provide federal assistance to areas with sustained levels of violence that are far above the national average. In order to be eligible cities or counties must be in compliance with federal immigration requirements and must demonstrate a commitment to reducing crime. Baltimore was overlooked as a 2017 pilot site, and again in 2018, in favor of other notoriously dangerous cities such as Chicago, Detroit, Oakland, Camden and Newark. But in the program’s third year it became impossible to exclude Baltimore, which has sadly become the nation’s murder capital. The FBI established a recent murder rate for Baltimore of 56 per 100,000 residents, a staggering number considering the next highest is Detroit with 40 per 100,000 residents. Chicago has long been perceived as the U.S. murder capital, but in reality its per capita rate is less than half of Baltimore’s.

Being selected to join the NPP isn’t exactly a cause for celebration, but there is hope that the increased federal funding and involvement will curb the constantly escalating violence in the city. The Maryland governor has routinely voiced his discontent with rising crime in Baltimore and has directed funding and law enforcement officers to the city in order to have gun crimes and other violent offenses prosecuted in federal court under Project Exile. Conviction rates are higher and prison sentences longer in federal court compared to the city’s circuit court. In addition to Project Exile, a violent crime joint operations center with 200 dedicated officers from 16 different agencies is already in the works to put boots on the ground in the city’s most violent areas. Additionally, the state has pledged money to the Baltimore Police Department to increase signing bonuses for new recruits, in response to the department’s high turnover rate.

Though it has only been around since 2017, the NPP has already contributed to the reduction of crime in some of the pilot locations and the hope is that the same can be accomplished here in Maryland. The NPP provides a three-year commitment from the federal government and focuses on core areas of crime fighting. The first is federal partnerships, which basically means general cooperation between the city’s leadership and police department and the DOJ and federal law enforcement. The federal government will provide assistance in crime analysis, technology, gun violence, criminal justice collaboration, community engagement and investigations. The feds will also appoint a strategic liaison to serve as the line of communication between the city and the Justice Department, and conduct an annual training symposium for law enforcement members.

Published on:

pistol-1350484_1280-300x200The federal government’s commitment to prosecuting Baltimore City gun crimes was on display again this week, as two men were sentenced to almost ten years in prison for unlawful firearm possession. Both the ATF and the Baltimore Police Department participated in the investigations that ultimately led to the convictions, and sentences were announced by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland. In the first case a 35-year old received a sentence of 100 months in federal prison followed by 3 years of probation for illegal possession of a stolen firearm. According to the plea, law enforcement executed a search warrant of the defendant’s residence and found a stolen semi-automatic handgun on the couch along with marijuana that the defendant planned to sell.   In the plea the defendant agreed that the firearm was possessed in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, and admitted that the he knew the firearm was stolen. The defendant was prohibited from possessing a firearm due to multiple prior felony convictions

Just 3 days later, a second Baltimore man was sentenced by the same federal judge to 9 years in prison for possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance and possession of a firearm in the furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. The jail sentence will be followed by 5 years of probation, or supervised release as it is termed in the federal system. According to the plea agreement police officers observed the defendant participating in a drug transaction and attempted make contact with him, but the defendant fled the scene. After a brief pursuit the defendant was arrested, and a search incident to arrest revealed oxycodone bills and over $400 in cash. Police also recovered a black jacket nearby with a loaded handgun inside the pocket. Law enforcement was able to prove the jacket belonged to the defendant using evidence recovered from a search warrant. This defendant was already prohibited from possessing a handgun due to prior felony convictions for possession with intent to distribute narcotics.

Both defendants could have easily been prosecuted in the Circuit Court in Baltimore, but the feds continue to pound the message that they will not ignore illegal gun possession in the city. Both Maryland law and federal law provide mandatory minimum prison sentences for illegal gun possession, but gun charges carry lengthier prison sentences in the federal system, and defendants are never eligible for parole. The defendants received lengthy sentences in large part due to their status as prior convicted felons, but the fact that drugs were involved with both cases contributed as well. Under Maryland law a person is subject to a 5-year minimum prison sentence without parole for both illegal possession of a firearm and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. Illegal possession of a firearm does not necessarily mean that a person must be a convicted felon. Misdemeanor convictions for second degree assault, and any other crime that carries a more than 2-year maximum penalty will disqualify a person from possessing a gun under state law. Additionally, a conviction for a domestically related offense and even a probation before judgment for domestic assault disqualifies a person. Possession of a firearm in the furtherance of a drug trafficking crime also carries a 5-year sentence without parole. The prosecution must establish that the gun and the drugs have some sort of relationship or nexus, but prior case law on this issue is not in favor of defendants.

Published on:

Gun-evidence-box-300x225Federal prosecutors have a reputation for taking on the largest and most complex criminal cases, and recent news headlines have done nothing but support this reputation. In the last few months the feds have convicted one of the largest drug traffickers in history, placed the entire college and amateur basketball world on notice and publicly shamed Hollywood actors for engaging in university admissions scandals. It seems no case is too large, but when it comes to guns in Baltimore no case is too small either. The U.S. Attorney’s Office recently announced that a 24-year old Baltimore man pleaded guilty to unlicensed gun dealing and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. This case was not tied to any other federal indictment, and the defendant was not part of any large-scale criminal conspiracy that the feds typically prosecute. There were no bank robbery, drug trafficking or gang related RICO claims against the defendant. The facts were straightforward and the case could have been prosecuted by the State of Maryland in the Baltimore City Circuit Court, yet the federal government decided take over.

This particular defendant, who had a prior conviction for first degree assault from 2015, pleaded guilty in Howard County to a separate gun related offense in the fall of 2017. Sentencing on the Howard County case was set for the winter of 2018 and the defendant was out of custody, presumably getting is affects in order before he began his sentence. Before the sentencing hearing, a violation of probation warrant from the original assault case became active, and Baltimore Police officers were sent to serve the warrant. Upon initiating a traffic stop the defendant fled from his vehicle and was arrested after a brief pursuit. A handgun was recovered along the path where the defendant allegedly fled. After this arrest law enforcement obtained a search warrant for the defendant’s social medial accounts and discovered numerous references to illegal gun sales, which prompted the feds to assume prosecution of the case. The 24-year old was sentenced on the two Howard County cases where he received the full backup time for the violation of probation and five years for the unlawful firearm possession case. He now faces up to 15 years in federal prison for the case where he recently pleaded guilty.

Regular readers of the Blog are well aware of federal government’s increased involvement with Baltimore City gun cases. It has become clear over the last decade that the local government simply cannot control violence in the city. It’s not just the murder rate, which is the highest among any major U.S. city but also the shootings, robberies, burglaries and carjackings that are all at critical levels. For the most part people just do not feel safe in Baltimore, and the population is declining as a result. The city is also having trouble hiring new police officer and retaining its own.

Published on:

pistol-1350484_1280-300x200Over the last decade Maryland lawmakers have specifically targeted handguns by making them harder to purchase, sell and even manufacture. The legislature has made specific findings that are part of the criminal code that basically hold handguns responsible for the alarming increase in serious injuries and deaths that occur during the commission of violent crimes. As a result of these findings lawmakers have passed some of the toughest gun laws in the country. These laws can carry lengthy prison sentences, and in jurisdictions like Baltimore City they can cause defendants to be held pretrial without bail for months. This is true even for non-violent gun possession cases where there were no injuries and the gun was not brandished or used in a threatening manner. For some defendants simple gun possession is enough to cause a no bail hold and the real possibility of jail.

The gun laws in Maryland are strict and complicated, which makes understanding them extremely important. Simply possessing or transporting a handgun in an improper manner can result in a misdemeanor charge for wear, transport and carry. This offense has a 3-year maximum penalty and a 30-day mandatory jail sentence that must be imposed upon conviction unless the court grants probation before judgment. While it is not out of the question, most defendants that are only charged with misdemeanor gun possession will be able to either post bail or be released or their recognizance. With good representation these defendants could avoid serving any jail time. Misdemeanor possession is a pretty straightforward offense, as you cannot carry a gun in public or drive with a gun unless it is unloaded, in a case and separated from the ammunition. You also may only drive with a handgun if you are going to and from you house, the shop or the range.

The complex part of the Maryland gun law is figuring out who is actually disqualified from owning or possessing a firearm in any manner. While there are different laws that separate handguns from rifles and shotguns, a disqualified individual cannot possess any type of firearm. There are numerous reasons why a person can be disqualified from firearm possession, with the most obvious being a felony conviction. Many people think that a felony conviction is the only reason that they may be prohibited from possessing a gun, but in Maryland this is not the case. A person who is convicted of a disqualifying crime may not possess a firearm, and faces the possibility of a felony charge under Title 5 of the Public Safety Code. This law carries a 15-year maximum penalty with the possibility of a 5-year minimum, so avoiding this charge at all costs is key.

Published on:

Medical-Cannabis-300x200For the last few years Maryland residents have been required to obtain a license to legally purchase a handgun. The handgun qualification license or HQL has been in effect since October of 2013 and requires purchasers to complete safety training and pass a full background check with the state police that includes fingerprinting. Those wishing to purchase rifles and shotguns are not subject to these requirements, and must only fill out a federally issued form and pass an instant background check. If you come with proper identification and pass the ATF’s check you can easily buy a semi-automatic shotgun or rifle in under an hour. But handguns are different, and despite anticipated backlash from the gun lobby the HQL requirement has largely remained out of the news since 2013.

Fast forward 5 years and the HQL law is back in the news after medical marijuana users are discovering they may have given up their right to purchase a handgun simply for registering as patients. In addition to convicted felons and those found guilty of other crimes such as second degree assault, the Maryland public safety code prohibits drug addicts and habitual drunkards from possessing any type of firearm. The language of the statute is key, as Maryland law does not broadly prohibit those who use drugs or drink alcohol from possessing or purchasing guns. Federal law on the other hand has prohibited the sale of guns to users of controlled substances since the Gun Control Act of 1968 and the Brady act of 1993, and it is this decades old legislation that is now the reason more than 20 medical marijuana patients have been denied the right to purchase a handgun. Marijuana is still defined as a controlled substance under federal law, and while the feds have yet to show signs they would enforce these acts as they relate to medical marijuana in Maryland, the state police apparently do not wish to assist citizens in breaking the dated law.

Patients who register with the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission are protected by federal HIPAA regulations, and their identities cannot be disclosed anyone, especially to law enforcement. But within the last year the state police have added a question in their HQL application that asks the applicant whether they are a registered user of medical marijuana. The police may not have access to the database, but lying on the application is a federal offense that carries up to 10 years in prison, making it unreasonable to risk criminal prosecution simply to purchase a handgun. Therefore by simply asking the question the state police are effectively banning medical marijuana patients from lawfully purchasing a handgun, and are covering their butts from the feds in the process. The questionnaire also adds a layer of protection to state gun dealers, who risk federal prosecution for unlawfully selling handguns in violation of the Brady Act. Violating the act is not a strict liability crime, meaning the shop would have to know or have reason to believe they are selling to a prohibited person. The impression we get from the HQL is that the state is not interested in subjecting its citizens to federal prosecution, but at the same time does not want to be complicit in violating federal law.

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:

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:

Gun-evidence-box-300x225While the crime rate in Baltimore slightly decreased over the last year, violence in the city remains at an unacceptable level.  So far in 2018 there have been 130 homicides within the city limit, and hundreds more non-fatal shootings.  Just last weekend 5 people were killed and 7 more were shot in Baltimore, which lends credence to the fact that summer always brings a spike in crime to the area.  Whether it’s the long days or the warm nights, people spend more time out on the streets during summer, and the streets are where the large majority of violent crimes occur.  Baltimore Police has over 3,000 sworn police officers patrolling these streets, but the department has its limitations, especially in times of elevated violence.

For the last few years federal law enforcement agencies have increased their presence in Baltimore, and this summer more than ever the feds plan to lend a hand in taking down the most violent of city criminals.  The mayor and the police commissioner recently held a press conference announcing a “summer surge” of law enforcement collaboration designed to get ahead of the violence ushered in by the change in seasons.  As expected the press conference did not provide specifics on which federal agencies would be involved and exactly how they would contribute, but the announcement did say that the “worst of the worst” would be the target.  No federal agencies have made official statements regarding the collaboration, though the city’s DEA office did say a statement could be forthcoming and the U.S. Marshals Service reiterated their continued willingness to assist.

The collaboration hardly means that we will see uniformed FBI and DEA agents out on the streets of Baltimore.  Rather, their involvement will likely be in the form of targeted investigations, arrests and prosecutions of the city’s most dangerous residents.  The U.S. Attorney’s Office is already involved in the prosecution of gun crimes that would traditionally be handled in state court. Federal prosecutors routinely notify state prosecutors of their willingness to take over the prosecution of crimes such as possession of a firearm by a prohibited person under 18 U.S.C. 922(g) and the use of a firearm during a drug trafficking crime under 18 U.S.C. 924(g).  Under state law the maximum penalty for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon is 15 years with a 5-year mandatory sentence if the prior conviction and resulting sentence was within the last 5 years.  This same charge under federal law carries a 10-year mandatory sentence and a $250,000 fine.  Under state law possession of a firearm during a drug trafficking crime carries a mandatory 5-year sentence with a maximum 20-year sentence, while under federal law this offense carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment with a mandatory minimum 5 years consecutive to any other offense.