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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.

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holster-648014__480-300x206There are two main types of gun permits that everyday citizens may decide to pursue, and before discussing the question of how a person goes about obtaining a Maryland gun permit it is important to distinguish between these two types. In 2013 state lawmakers passed the firearms safety act, which drastically changed the process for everyday citizens to purchase handguns. In addition to outlawing the sale of any gun with a magazine capacity over ten rounds (including the popular 15 round capacity Beretta M9) lawmakers also decided to require all citizens to obtain a Handgun Qualification License before purchasing any type of handgun. The stated goal of the HQL license was to assure that only the most qualified and educated individuals could purchase handguns, but in reality the state really just maintains extreme control on the legal gun market going forward. The HQL license is not particularly difficult to obtain, as it requires the individual to take a four-hour class (unless exempt for being law enforcement, military etc.) and also pass a background check that requires giving a fingerprint sample. After obtaining a HQL a person will be issued a card that allows them to purchase. This qualification license DOES NOT allow a person to lawfully carry a concealed handgun nor does it provide a legal means for open carry. The process for obtaining a carry permit is much more involved, and unfortunately extremely difficult for an everyday citizen.

The rules governing carry permits in Maryland were not particularly affected by the firearms safety act of 2013. Rather, these rules are governed by title 5 of the public safety code. All carry permits must go through the Handgun Permit Review Board at the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services or DPSCS, which is the same department that controls state prisons and parole and probation. The review board consists of 5 citizens that are appointed by the governor to serve 3-year terms, and these are the people that will decide if your request for a carry permit is granted or denied. Without a permit you cannot wear, transport or carry a handgun unless you are going from home to the range/ gun shop or vice versa, and unless the weapon is packaged correctly in a case. The fees to apply for the permit are relatively cheap but the qualifications to actually obtain one are far from it. Any applicant that hopes to obtain a permit must be an adult who has not been convicted of crimes including drug offenses and other offense where the sentence was more than 1 year, and all applicants must complete 8 hours of training by a qualified instructor. The requirements get much harder though after that.

Once an applicant meets the basic requirements the board will then conduct an investigation to determine whether the applicant has ever exhibited a propensity for violence or instability. If you have ever been charged with assault or if a peace order or protective order has ever been taken out against you then you can bet this will come back to bite you during the investigation stage. If the board determines you are suitable after the character investigation they will next move to the most difficult stage where the majority of applications fail. Under the law an applicant must prove a good and substantial reason to wear, transport or carry a handgun that rises to the level of finding that the “permit is necessary as a reasonable precaution against apprehended danger”. In a nutshell this means that the applicant must prove that he or she needs the permit to protect against danger that they are likely to encounter. The burden is on the applicant to prove this is the case, but the problem is that many citizens cannot site specific facts that make them likely to encounter danger. It is not enough in Maryland to just be a law-abiding citizen with the desire for extra protection, as the board will need more persuasion under the law.

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dui2-300x199Drunk driving is one of the most common jailable offenses in Maryland, and one that affects those of all ages and backgrounds. Close to 20,000 people are arrested here each year for DUI or DWI, and most of these defendants are first time offenders with no criminal or serious traffic convictions. An arrest for drunk driving can be an extremely unpleasant experience for anyone, especially those who have never been detained by the police. Reality usually sets in after the adrenaline from the police encounter wears off, and the initial emotions can range from anger to regret. For many this is often followed by fear for the consequences that may follow.

While the majority of drivers arrested for suspicion of DUI will have their license confiscated and then suspended after 45 days, Maryland allows drivers to install the interlock device to avoid suspension. The interlock device may be annoying, but it allows defendants to drive without any restrictions, which is much better than choosing between driving on a suspended license and having to deal with the state’s subpar public transportation to get to school or work. After realizing that you can keep driving after the arrest, the focus then shifts to two main concerns. In no specific order the two most common questions from a DUI defendant are: will I go to jail and will I end up with a permanent conviction on my record?

The question about potential jail time depends on a variety of factors, but the two most important are whether there was an injury accident and whether it is a first offense. In almost every Maryland jurisdiction a first time drunk driving offender who pleads guilty or even is found guilty at trial will not be sentenced to jail time if there are no aggravating factors. The most obvious aggravating factor is an injury accident, but there are many others including an extraordinarily high blood alcohol content (typically anything that approaches .20 would fall in this category), lack of cooperation with the arresting officer or driving in a reckless manner. Other aggravating factors that may influence a judge with respect to a jail sentence would be committing the offense with a minor child in the car or near a school or day care center.

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keyboard-453795_1280-300x200A Baltimore County man was recently sentenced to 4 years in federal prison followed by 3 years of probation for his role in an Internet dating scam that cost numerous victims millions. The defendant, who hails from Owings Mills, pled guilty back in February to conspiracy to commit money laundering after he was indicted back in the spring of 2015 on numerous charges including wire fraud. According to the terms of the plea and the indictment the co-conspirators scoured numerous online dating websites in search of vulnerable victims, many of whom were elderly singles. The co-conspirators would then form romantic relationships with these unsuspecting victims over email, online chatting, and eventually phone calls. When the relationship had built up the co-conspirators would use fake stories to induce the victims to send money. These stories were elaborate and included tales of medical hardships that were bolstered by fake medical bills, tales of businesses on the verge of going bankrupt and non-existent foreign tax liens that needed to be settled.

The co-conspirators would receive money in numerous ways including wire transfers or bank deposits ranging from $1,700 to $30,000. Money was sent to drop accounts, which are designed to make it difficult to trace to the account holder (but clearly not too difficult for the FBI in this case). The money would not sit long in the drop accounts, as it was withdrawn and dispersed to the co-conspirators in a variety of ways in order to attempt to conceal the source of the funds. This is where the money laundering charges came from, as the co-conspirators would transfer money from the drop accounts to their own personal accounts online or they would write each other multiple checks for small amounts. Court documents also state that the defendants would purchase cashiers checks in order to conceal the source of all the income. All told the ten co-conspirators, most of whom are from the Laurel area of Prince George’s County, initially got away with scamming both male and female victims out of millions. Ultimately it was the attempt to funnel this money into usable accounts that brought this particular 26-year old defendant down.

The facts of this case do not clearly support a strong case for proving the existence of a theft scheme or a fraud scheme, as the victims appeared to hand over the money willingly, and often out of sympathy with no expectation of getting something in return. Regardless, the government always had the trump card of a money laundering charge in its back pocket. Even if federal prosecutors couldn’t prove fraud there was no bulletproof defense to the act of attempting to conceal the illegitimate funds flowing in from the dating scam. As they do in many conspiracy cases prosecutors likely followed the money straight to a conviction, and now it is the defendant that are going to have to pay up. This young defendant from Baltimore County has a hefty restitution payment of $375,000 bearing down on him once he is released from prison. Paying this restitution is likely a condition of probation, and if it is not paid the defendant could be back in court on a violation of probation. Failure to pay restitution might be a technical violation, but it is not a violation that judges take lightly. The Blog will continue to follow this case and other federal conspiracy cases, and may post a follow up article in the future so stay tuned.

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graphics-882726_640-300x207A probation sentence can be a blessing in some cases and a curse in others. In many situations accepting a plea to probation will get a defendant out of jail or prevent him or her from ever setting foot in jail, but sometimes it is not all it’s cracked up to be. Whether you receive 6 months or 3 years of supervision, your chances of successfully completing your time can often be largely influence by the agent that is assigned to your case. Forming a good relationship with your agent is key, and doing exactly what they say, while annoying at times, can be your easiest path to successful completion. Sometimes though a defendant will be assigned to an agent that is completely unreasonable and this is typically how violations begin. Remember that if your probation is or is about to be violated it does not mean you will automatically go to jail. If you fail a drug test, miss an appointment or catch a new charge your probation officer can let it slide or choose to inform the judge by writing a violation report. The violation report usually states the things that you did wrong, and is similar to a statement of probable cause in that it establishes a basis to charge you.

Upon receiving the violation report the court will typically do one of three things. The judge could choose to take no action and in this instance you will continue on probation as if nothing happened. The judge could also issue a summons for you to appear in court and answer for the violation. This is usually called a show cause hearing where you will be summoned to court to state whether you admit or deny the allegations in the report. In some instances when a show cause summons is issued the judge may urge the state’s attorney to dismiss the violation after discussing the case with the agent, the defendant and his or her attorney, but this is somewhat rare. If you go to court to try to explain yourself to the judge it is best to do so with an attorney or at least after contacting one for some advice.

If the judge is not kind enough to issue a summons for you to appear then a VOP warrant will be issued for your arrest. The judge can preset a bail depending on the severity of the violation, and in this case you could be released shortly after seeing the commissioner or in some courts, such as Baltimore City, the bail can be paid directly to the bail department. If there is no preset bail you will likely be held until you see the judge at a bail review hearing. At a bail review the judge could release you pending the VOP hearing or hold you without bail. If you are held without bail it is advisable to contact an attorney to try to set a court date as quickly as possible. There is nothing worse than sitting in jail for days and even weeks waiting for your chance to go to court.