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handcuffs-2102488__480-300x169Conducting prostitution stings was once a practice limited to a few select police departments, but in the last few years numerous Maryland law enforcement agencies have joined the fray after the internet has made prostitution more accessible to the average person.  Traditional prostitution stings consist of an undercover female police officer hanging around in areas known to be hotbeds for this illegal activity.  Undercover officers are always flanked by a team of officers in unmarked cars close by, who arrive in seconds once a “take down” signal is relayed.  These operations were once common in urban areas such as Baltimore City but they are tedious and possibly dangerous endeavors for police.  Assigning undercover officers to walk the streets of high-crime areas creates an environment that is far from controlled.  On top of that vice teams could spend hours searching for Johns without any takers, as high prostitution areas are virtually nonexistent after being replaced by online the marketplace.  Rather than spend an entire day in the street searching for solicitors police departments developed plans to have the Johns come to them, and in turn arrest numbers have increased.

Anne Arundel County was one of the first departments to aggressively combat online prostitution after fielding numerous complaints from hotels in the BWI region.  These hotels began to notice activity that was consistent with sex commerce, and in response police began to set up fake online profiles for escorts in online classified websites such Backpages.  The fake profiles aimed to mimic real profiles with seductive pictures and slang phrases.  Like real profiles the fake ones never actually said specifically what was for sale or how much it would cost, as the vague language was used to dispel any fears that cops were on the prowl.  After posting the fake ads police set up shop in the same hotels where the complaints originated, and waited by the phone for calls or texts.  Police didn’t end up waiting long as Johns showed up at pre-determined rooms where an undercover female officer was waiting to negotiate a deal if one had not already been reached via text.  In some cases the female officer would wait until money was produced before giving the take down signal to a group of officers stationed in an adjacent room, but other times the undercover would send the cavalry in earlier. Either way, the result was the same, as the support team basically arrested anyone who showed up at the room regardless of whether a deal was verbalized.

Anne Arundel County Police made hundreds of arrests at area hotels using fake Backpages profiles, and they continue to conduct these stings.  In the last few years other Maryland police agencies such as Prince George’s County police and Howard County police have started to conduct the same stings and these departments have showed no sign of discontinuing this effort.    A person that shows up in response to a fake Backpages at can expect charges for solicitation and assignation, and often police include multiple counts of each. The multiple counts represent each time police perceive that an offer and acceptance for sex takes place, but the state will typically only prosecute one of these counts.  Howard County police have been known to charge Johns with disorderly conduct as well, though this charge is definitely a long shot in the courtroom.  There are also instances where Johns have touched the undercover and been charged with 4thdegree sexual offense.  Fourth degree sexual offense is a misdemeanor with the same maximum penalty as solicitation, but it is a far more serious offense with potential consequences including registering as a sex offender.  While it would be difficult to prove this charge in a solicitation case it nonetheless raises the stakes, and makes it all the more important to hire an experienced and skilled lawyer.

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play-593207__480-300x199In 2010 Maryland’s first casino opened in Cecil County, a location picked due to its proximity to gambling establishments in nearby Delaware and New Jersey. Lawmakers and citizens were growing tired of losing out on millions of dollars in tax revenue and thousands of jobs to neighboring states, and the response was legalizing casino gambling. Since the Hollywood Casino of Perryville opened roughly 8 years ago five more casinos have opened their doors, with the newest being the billion-dollar MGM National Harbor Casino in Prince George’s County that opened at the end of 2016. The casinos are spread pretty evenly across the state from the Rocky Gap Casino in Allegany County to Ocean Downs on the Eastern Shore. The Horseshoe in Baltimore and Maryland Live in Anne Arundel County are the closest together distance wise, but draw from a large customer base and have no trouble keeping the profits flowing. Average monthly revenue from the casinos is approaching $150 million. The six casinos draw hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, and the positive economic impacts have been undeniable. While the tax revenue and job creation have been a huge positive for the state there is also a dark side to the all the bright lights and jackpot payouts. Six new casinos opening in a little over five years brings an increased risk for gambling addiction. Marylanders once had to board a plane to Vegas or drive 3 hours in traffic to play table games, but now it’s hard to find a place in the state that is more than an hour drive away from a casino.

Upon legalizing casinos lawmakers also created provisions to combat gambling addiction including educational resources and 24 hour hotlines, which are both helpful tools for those who desire help. On the other hand these resources lack teeth for players and their families that are trying to stop. For those that require additional help lawmakers and the gaming commission created the voluntary exclusion program or VEP, which allows a person to voluntarily agree to refrain from entering and playing at any Maryland casino. Anyone can enter the program with the caveat that the application has to be accompanied by an in person interview. Spouses, friends and family members may try to convince a person to enter the program but they cannot enter it on their behalf. The reason the commission requires a thorough application process and an in person interview is because the consequences for violating the pact to refrain from entering a casino are criminal. A person enrolled in the voluntary exclusion program may be charged with criminal trespass upon entering a Maryland casino, and odds are that this will happen regardless of whether a chip is played. Casinos take the exclusion program very seriously, and they have to in order to remain in the good graces of lawmakers. Issuing a large number of criminal trespass citations ensures the image of compliance, so a person who is caught will almost certainly not be able to talk their way out charges. While a person may take themselves out of the voluntary exclusion program after two years this does not happen automatically. You have to apply to take yourself off, and the commission must approve this request before you can reenter or play again. It is not a defense that 2 or more years have passed since acceptance to the program.

The casinos can easily locate an excluded person through face recognition technology, credit card alerts and players club card alerts so do not be surprised to see security walk up on you within minutes of entering the facility. Generally casino security will escort a potential offender off the gaming floor to a back room, where a local police officer will show up toting a citation booklet. Offenders are then issued a citation and escorted off the property. Criminal trespass carries a maximum sentence of 90 days in jail, though most people that receive these citations are first time offenders and realistically do not face a lengthy jail sentence upon conviction. On the other hand, the potential to receive a permanent criminal conviction looms large for anyone who receives a trespass citation, and this result could have devastating effects on the ability to maintain employment, professional licenses and security clearances. If handled properly casino trespass citations could be nothing more than an inconvenience so it is important to contact an attorney who has experience handling these cases. An attorney can attempt to work out a favorable resolution in advance of the court date, which will not only limit exposure to criminal sanctions but also eliminate the stressful uncertainty of a court appearance.

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keyboard-453795_1280-300x200Maryland sports one of the most convenient systems to access criminal case information via the casesearch website. The website allows the user to search a database of thousands of cases by first or last name of the defendant, and displays the charges, court location and hearing times. If the case is closed it provides a brief summary of the outcome or disposition including the length of suspended and unsuspended jail time, the terms and conditions of probation and whether a probation before judgment (PBJ) was granted. The site lists any attorneys involved including the prosecutor and defense lawyer, and in some cases includes the victim or complaining witness. The site also lists the names of any police officers involved, but for a few days last week and without warning or explanation these names suddenly disappeared.

The details behind the information blackout are still somewhat murky, but we do know that at some point in the last few months a government committee that oversees the website voted to replace the officer’s first names with their initials in the interest of protecting police from potential retaliation. This change had been on the agenda of the Anne Arundel County Police for years though AA County PD never advocated for the complete deletion of officer information. After the names disappeared we learned that no law enforcement agency in the state actually advocated for the complete deletion of officer information. Quite to the contrary most publicly denounced it, which made the move even stranger and only increased the amount of backlash by civil rights advocates, police watchdog organizations and criminal defense attorneys around the state. Accessing the names of arresting officers is essential to filing expungement applications, which are processed at a rate of close to 6,000 per month. In order to apply for an expungement within the first three years of a case being dismissed all defendants must fill out a waiver and release form that basically states you will not sue the police. Without the arresting officer’s name you cant properly fill out the form.

There was certainly a shortage of justification for deleting the information from public view, and the move could not have come at a worse time. In light of Baltimore City police corruption gaining widespread national media attention over the past few months you would think the response by state agencies would be for more transparency and not less. The rocky relationship between police and the general public is not going to smooth out by adding another layer of secrecy. Luckily before the backlash grew the Maryland Court of Appeals stepped in and reversed the decision and ordered the judiciary to undo the deletions. It wasn’t quite no harm no foul as the government wasted over ten thousand dollars deleting and restoring the data. As of now the site is back up and running like normal, but there are still unanswered questions about what actually happened.  The judiciary called the move an honest mistake, though the Blog will continue to track this bizarre story and if any new information comes to light we may post a follow up article. For any questions on criminal defense issues such as expunging a case or seeking representation for a current charge feel free to contact Benjamin Herbst at 410-207-2598. Benjamin defends clients charged with any offense in all Maryland jurisdictions including federal court.

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handcuffs-2102488__480-300x169Finding out that a friend or loved one has been arrested is frightening and stressful, but having the feeling that you can’t do anything about it is worse. The laws applying to bail have changed drastically in Maryland over the last couple of years and understanding how to navigate around these laws could mean the difference between release and an extended stay at Baltimore City central booking or one of the state’s county jails. In most cases when a person is first arrested he or she will be taken before a district court commissioner who will check to see if there was probable cause for the arrest and who will then make a determination of release conditions.  This usually happens within a few hours of the arrest, but some in some of the larger jurisdictions it could take longer.

Court commissioners are not judges, lawyers or even law school graduates, and they are not required to have any extensive legal training. A bachelor’s degree and county/ city residency are all that are required for the appointment to serve as a commissioner. The prerequisites to become a court commissioner are light and severely contrast with the power to put someone in jail by signing off on an arrest warrant or to keep someone in jail by denying bail. Thankfully around half of defendants are released on their own recognizance, and will regain their freedom within an hour or so of speaking with the commissioner. But the other half face the possibility of remaining in jail until their case is closed if the case is not handled properly.

As a friend or family member there is not much you can do to influence the court commissioner’s decision at the initial appearance because they are not public hearings. Defendants are afforded the right to have an attorney present when they go before the commissioner, so the best approach is to try to hire a lawyer immediately. Realistically though this is not always possible, and the first time you may hear about the arrest could be after the defendant sees the commissioner. Those that are denied release will be scheduled for a bail review in front of a district or circuit court judge the following business day. Most of these hearings take place by video, but the defendant has an absolute right to have a lawyer present. The first bail review is the best shot and in some cases the only chance before trial to secure release, so it’s incredibly important to be prepare beforehand and ready to argue at the hearing.

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IMG_7858-e1515083729598-225x300Multiple police departments in Maryland have posted messages on social media warning local residents to take proper care of their pets amidst the current run of frigid cold temperatures. Anne Arundel County Police sent the word out via Facebook post, which focused on dog owners who choose to leave their pup outside unattended in the cold weather. The police department provided specific guidelines during a severe weather animal emergency including maintaining a constant supply of non-frozen drinking water and using a dog house that is equipped to protect against the elements. The houses must have a usable door flap pointed away from prevailing winds, abundant dry bedding and be situated at least 2 inches above the ground (or any snowfall on top of the ground). Police also warned that houses or shelters that are too large to maintain a temperature above 33 degrees are unsafe for dogs, and any shelter may not be suitable if the “feels like” temperature drops below 20 degrees. During the last week and for the next few days a “feels like” temperature of 20 degrees may seem like summer, and thus no dogs should be left unattended outside for the foreseeable future. Those who fail to comply with the Anne Arundel County law during severe weather animal emergencies face civil fines up $1,000, confiscation of the animal and the potential for criminal charges for animal abuse or neglect.

Montgomery County issued a similar message, reminding residents that during weather emergencies pets must not be left outside unattended. The county police department gave a stern warning that leaving animals outside in these conditions may be considered an act of cruelty, and owners could be subject to criminal charges. The Montgomery County code provides a civil fine of up to $500,which police officers could charge in addition to the state statute regarding abuse or neglect of an animal. Under section 10-604 of the Maryland criminal code anyone who deprives an animal of necessary sustenance or inflicts unnecessary pain or suffering upon an animal could be found guilty of a misdemeanor and sentenced to up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. In addition, a conviction could result in the defendant being prohibited from owning pets in the future and being compelled to participate in psychological counseling at their own expense. If the police deem that the cruelty was intentional they may charge a defendant with aggravated animal cruelty under 10-606, which is a felony with a 3-year maximum prison sentence and a $5,000 fine. As with many criminal cases in Maryland, police officers will typically charge a suspect with the maximum relevant offense even if there is unconvincing evidence that it occurred.

Animal cruelty is a serious charge in Maryland and should be handled with extreme care to prevent penalties including a permanent criminal conviction and even jail time. An attorney could help obtain a dismissal or prevent criminal charges from being filed in the first place. In some cases police officers or animal control will confiscate the pet before making a determination whether to file charges. A lawyer can communicate with these agencies to try to work out an alternative resolution to the filing of criminal charges. Benjamin Herbst is an experienced Maryland animal abuse attorney who handles cases in all jurisdictions. Contact Benjamin today at 410–207-2598 for a free consultation.

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arguing-1296392_1280-300x212The holiday season is supposed to be a time for families to come together and enjoy each other’s company, but unfortunately it takes more than holiday cheer to keep relationships from going awry. Most couples, friends, family members and neighbors are able to get along with each other just fine and will never have to deal with the stress of the court system. For those that aren’t so lucky it is important to understand your rights and the avenues available in order to clear your name. In Maryland there are two types of legal proceedings where the courts will assist in keeping the peace between feuding individuals. The most common is called a protective order, which applies to family members, current and former spouses, partners who have been sexually active within the last year and parents who share a child. If a person wants the courts assistance with an individual who does not fit in one of these categories then a peace order must be filed. Former friends, co-workers or others in a business relationship, and neighbors who can’t get along are the most common parties to a peace order.   Peace orders can last up to 6 months or 1 year with good cause and protective orders up to 1 year or 2 with good cause.

Peace orders and Protective orders begin in the District Court where the petitioner asking for a no contact order or order to vacate a home fills out a sworn statement and submits it to the court commissioner. The petitioner will then appear before a judge at a temporary hearing to swear to the alleged facts under oath. Judges will typically grant temporary protective orders or peace orders because the standard is low and they only last about 7 days. The judge must only find reasonable grounds to believe the respondent (defendant) committed the acts alleged. If a judge grants a temporary protective order against you it is important to remain calm and seek legal advice. A temporary protective or peace order is not final and you still have a chance to defend yourself at an evidentiary hearing, and if you win the final hearing and the order is dismissed you will be able to shield the case from public view. The standard of proof at a final hearing is called preponderance of the evidence, which means the petitioner must convince the judge more likely than not that the allegations occurred.

Preponderance of the evidence is the same standard used in violation of probation hearings, and while it is not as high as proof beyond a reasonable doubt used in criminal trials, it still requires that the petitioner convince the judge. If there is no objective evidence, unbiased witnesses such as a police officers, and the respondent denies the allegation then the judge should dismiss the order. One party’s word against the other’s with nothing more should not be enough to satisfy the burden of proof, but judges have the final say. It is always important to prepare an effective cross examination of the accuser and contacting a lawyer is one way to make sure this happens. Bringing evidence such as pictures or text messages may be another effective way to challenge the petitioner’s accusations.

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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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police-378255_960_720-300x212Each year thousands of defendants are arrested or cited for crimes they did not commit, and thankfully a large percentage of these cases are dismissed in court. Defendants who are not fortunate enough to have their cases dismissed may still walk out of court without a permanent criminal conviction, and others may be given the opportunity to have the conviction stricken down the road. Exiting through the front door of the courthouse without a criminal conviction is only half the battle, as cases do not simply disappear upon being closed or dismissed. While it is certainly a relief to have your criminal case closed, the record of its existence could still be extremely damaging and stressful for years to some.

The question for many former defendants in the days following the closure of their cases is how to limit others from finding out about it. This includes current and prospective employers, academic institutions and professional organizations. Those who are searching for a potential better half also do not want to deal with the horror of a meticulous Google search turning up misleading negative information. Everyone (and their friends) has the tendency to pass quick judgment about a potential romantic interest, and a prior criminal case that is easily viewed online could spell disaster. So how can you prevent this from happening?

The answer to this question depends on a ton of factors including the specific outcome in court, and whether it was a state or federal case. For starters, the federal criminal justice system does not provide an avenue for a defendant to expunge his or her closed case. A defendant wrongfully charged with bank robbery in federal court will not be able to expunge the case even if it was nolle prossed prior to trial. The same goes for defendants charged with minor offenses such as petty theft or drug possession who complete community service in exchange for dismissals. All hope is not lost for federal criminal defendants though, as these cases are often more difficult for the general public to find. Unlike many state cases a federal case listed on PACER will not be visible with a simple web search and you cannot access this system without an account. Additionally some petty offense cases that are initiated via a citation may not show up in certain commercial background checks.

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dollar-1362244_1280-300x200 The Ocean City Police recently announced a large prostitution sting, which yielded multiple arrests of defendants from numerous states. All told twelve people were arrested on charges ranging from misdemeanor prostitution to felony possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance. Six of the twelve arrested are from Maryland but only two were actually from Ocean City. The other four hail from Cumberland, Severn, Salisbury and nearby Berlin. One defendant is from Alexandria Virginia and two are from Delaware. The other three hail from Pennsylvania, a bordering state that brings thousands of tourists to the local beaches each summer. All but one defendant was released on personal recognizance, which allows for immediate release without a bail being posted. By order of the Chief Judge, the district courts have been more inclined to released defendants on recog over the last few months. The one defendant who was forced to post a bail was later released after putting up $10,000.

While the police announced the sting was part of a human trafficking operation, there were no arrests for the felony charge of human trafficking. An investigation into suspects engaged in this type of criminal activity could be ongoing, and detectives may try to use any evidence recovered in this sting to locate those suspects. Human trafficking may sound like it is a crime limited to the buying and selling of people for profit, but it includes numerous other activities. In fact, anyone who persuades or induces someone to engage in prostitution or who profits from someone else engaging in prostitution could be charged with felony human trafficking. This type of activity is more related to acting as a pimp or pimping than buying and selling people, but the potential criminal charge could be the same.

Like anyone else charged with prostitution in Maryland, these twelve defendants will have a chance to fight their charges in the Ocean City District Court. The crime of prostitution carries maximum 1-year jail sentence so the defendants may choose to request a jury trial, which will result in their cases being transferred to the Worcester County Circuit Court located in Snow Hill.

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police-378255_960_720-300x212Many people find out that there is a warrant for their arrest when it is too late to actually do something about it. For example if there is an active warrant and a police officer pulls you over for a traffic violation you will almost always be taken into custody right then and there. Additionally if you show up to probation with a warrant an officer will likely be waiting to take you away in cuffs. But if you are lucky enough to find out about your warrant beforehand there are certain things you can do to avoid having to go to jail.

There are two basic types of warrants in Maryland and it is important to understand the differences before deciding what you can do about the situation. In state court cases a bench warrant is a warrant issued by a judge of either the district or circuit court. The most common cause of a bench warrant would be for a failure to appear at a court date for either a traffic or criminal case. Bench warrants will not be issued for failing to appear at a minor traffic case such as speeding or running a red light. The consequence for not showing up to theses cases is typically the issuing of a failure to comply suspension that may result in the MVA suspending your drivers license. If you fail to appear and a warrant is issued the judge will typically decide bail in court, but could also indicate that bail is to be set by the commissioner. In felony cases or other more serious crimes the judge may decide to issue a no bail bench warrant. The best way to deal with a bench warrant is to file a motion to recall or quash the warrant and request that the judge reset the case for trial. If you hire an attorney to file the motion there is a good chance it will be granted, as the judge will see that by getting a lawyer you have taken steps to deal with the case and are likely to show up for your next court date. You may also decide to file the motion on your own. In this case you should go to the courthouse and request a blank motion form, and then explain to the judge why you missed court.

Bench warrants can also be issued for violation of probation. In this case the probation officer will submit a violation report and will typically recommend that a warrant be issued, a summons to appear be issued or that the court take no action. It is ultimately the judge’s decision what to do, and if he or she decides to issue a warrant then you would have to file a motion to withdraw it, and to set the case for a violation of probation hearing. Once again, it is advisable to have an attorney file this motion but there is no rule preventing you from filing it pro se.