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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.

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handgun-231699_640-300x169A federal judge recently sentenced a 24-year old Prince George’s County man to 16 years in prison after he pled guilty to a botched robbery that occurred back in September. The young man from Bowie was convicted of commercial robbery and brandishing and discharging a firearm during a crime of violence, which carries a mandatory minimum jail term. This means the defendant will not be eligible for parole for at least 5 years, and he will be on supervised probation when he does get released. The robbery took place at the University of Maryland University College Inn and Conference center located in Adelphi, just outside of College Park.

The plea agreement described a frantic few minutes that began with the armed defendant approaching a security guard at the inn and stating he was on the premises to make a delivery. As the two men walked toward the loading dock the defendant grabbed the security guard and a struggle ensued. During the struggle the defendant’s gun was discharged but did not strike anyone. Around the same time the masked and also armed co-conspirator entered building’s security office with his gun drawn and ordered all occupants to the ground while demanding money. Around the same time the security guard at the loading dock managed to break free from the defendant and made it back to the security office to seek help, only to come face to face with the gun brandishing co-conspirator. The co-conspirator shot in the direction of the guard and the bullet struck him in the arm and came to rest near his spine. Seconds later the defendant appeared at the security office and joined up with his co-conspirator to steal three safes. Both fled the scene, but one did not get very far.

Prince George’s County Police responded to the scene immediately and dispatched a K9 unit and a helicopter to locate the suspects. Eventually the police K9 located the defendant hiding in an area of overgrown trees and shrubs right near the loading dock where the doomed heist began. A search of the area turned up all three safes and a .40 caliber semi automatic pistol loaded with 7 rounds of ammunition. Forensic evidence revealed that the fingerprints taken from the gun’s magazine matched the defendant’s, and ballistics matched the .40 caliber shell casing with the gun that was found. Police later recovered clear surveillance footage of the unmasked defendant carrying out the robbery, and also recovered recorded PG county jail phone calls where the defendant admitted to firing his gun, but stated he did not hit anyone. Needless to say federal prosecutors had more than enough evidence at their disposal if the defendant had elected to reject the guilty plea and take his case to trial in the Greenbelt federal courthouse.

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weed4-300x194After enduring numerous delays and costly blunders the state medical marijuana program is now in the final stages of preparation. Over the last few months most of the news headlines concerning medical pot were focused on the potential growers. These grow companies raised millions of dollars apiece and their investors included prominent and powerful state residents. Needless to say there was a lot at stake when the commission hired a Towson University group to choose the best fifteen, and it was hardly a surprise when those that didn’t make the cut took their fight to the media and the courts. Despite pending litigation by a couple of disgruntled grow companies the other fifteen pre-approved growers are moving forward with their plans to plant their first seeds. Many of these multimillion-dollar companies are still awaiting final licenses, but there do not appear to be any imminent hurdles on the growing side of the Maryland medical cannabis operation. However, there are some new issues popping up on the dispensary side.

There has not been a great deal of talk about the hundred plus companies that have been preliminarily approved to sell medical marijuana to patients in need. This is partly due to the simple fact of timing; there was no point in dwelling on the details of dispensing until it was certain there would be a product to dispense. But now that the growers are in place the attention has shifted to the shops that will soon open for business throughout the state, and not all of the attention is positive. Residents in the area of a potential Baltimore County dispensary expressed concern over the location of a one future shop, and politicians responded by imposing new restrictions that could jeopardize the location of this business. A similar pattern of events has taken place in Anne Arundel County, Queen Anne’s County and Baltimore City. Many of the residents who have complained about the location of dispensaries support the medical marijuana program as a whole, but they just don’t want the stores in their neighborhood. The problem is that dispensaries have to go somewhere, and you can’t just make patients drive out to the boonies or into high crime areas to buy their medication.

As with most complaints about medical or recreational marijuana the latest concerns over the location of dispensaries are naïve and ignorant. The detractors assume that pot shops will bring in riff raff and crime to their neighborhoods, though the only support to this argument is the baseless stigma surrounding marijuana. Anyone who has traveled to areas around the country where pot is legal can attest to the fact that the dispensaries are highly sophisticated and secure operations, and their clientele just want to get in, buy their product and leave. You rarely, if ever, see anyone loitering around a dispensary, and the storefronts are clean and professional. Contrast this with local liquor stores that actually do bring in the riff raff, and are prime targets for robberies inside and outside of the store. Once the shops are open for business the stigma should start to erode, though realistically it will take a generation before marijuana is accepted not only as an effective medical product, but also as a safer recreational alternative to alcohol. As for dispensary locations, we do not feel this will ultimately cause additional delays to the program though the Blog will post an article in the future if this sentiment changes.

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

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

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

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police-224426__180Back in February seven Baltimore Police officers from the department’s gun task force were indicted on federal racketeering charges with allegations that the officers extorted and stole money from citizens, falsified police reports and collected fraudulent overtime payments. While all of the cases are still pending, it is now expected that four of the officers will enter guilty pleas sometime in the near future. The other three officers though appear to be in more hot water after the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced a federal grand jury returned a new indictment last week. The superseding indictment charges the three officers with additional counts of robbery, conspiracy, and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence. All told the offers were implicated in as many as 13 robberies that yielded over $280,000 in cash, firearms and 2 kilograms of cocaine, and now the details of some of these criminal acts are coming to light.

The new six-count indictment alleges that as far back as 2011 the officers illegally detained or entered the homes of suspected drug dealers with the intent to steal their narcotics and money. The officers allegedly conducted traffic stops without probable cause and even went as far as swearing to made up search warrant affidavits to gain access to suspects’ homes and vehicles. There are also allegations of burglarizing a storage unit to carry out a cocaine theft, stealing 20 pounds of marijuana during a drug deal and robbing a stripper. The incident that is gaining the most media attention though was a brazen home invasion robbery where the officers hired two civilians to steal a large amount of cash from the owner of a pigeon store in the southern Baltimore neighborhood of Brooklyn. While conducting a search warrant on the store the gun task force officers learned that the owner was in possession of $20,000 cash that was to be used to pay off a tax debt to the IRS. The officers left the store without taking any money, but later conspired with two civilians to steal the cash at a later date. After locating the store owner’s home address using a law enforcement database the officers provided the address as well as tactical gear including bullet proof vests and weapons to the civilians. The two civilians then robbed the store owner at gunpoint after posing as cops attempting to execute a search warrant.

The store owner reported the incident to the Baltimore Police several times, and filed an internal affairs complaint to no avail. While there was no official word from BPD on what exactly happened with the IA report, it is now assumed that the investigation was turned over to the feds in order to continue to build a case against the corrupt city cops. All seven of the officers face up to 20 years in prison for the racketeering and conspiracy charges and some may face additional penalties for robbery and felony firearms offenses. The firearm offenses could trigger mandatory minimum sentences as well, so it will be interesting to see what type of plea deals the first four officers agree to accept. The Blog will continue to follow all of these cases and may post a follow up article in the near future with an update. If you or a loved one is facing state or federal criminal charges contact Benjamin Herbst. He has represented hundreds of defendants charged with gun crimes, robbery, theft and drug trafficking and is available anytime for a free consultation.

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heroin3-300x169Police departments, lawmakers and even the governor have made combatting drug overdoses a major point of emphasis over the last few years. Many law enforcement agencies are training their officers in overdose recognition and equipping them with overdose prevention drugs. Police are now responding to the scene of a possible overdose with the mindset that their first call of duty could be saving a life rather than making an arrest. Lawmakers are tying to do their part as well by creating legislation aimed at punishing drug dealers whose product causes a death, and attempting to protect those who offer aid to overdose victims. The governor has always taken a hardline stance against heroin, highlighted by his recent declaration that opioid use is now in an official state of emergency warranting an additional $50 million in resources. Numerous citizen based community organizations have also joined forces with the government in this battle, but despite their best efforts the overdose numbers are heading in the wrong direction.

According to data recently released by the State Department of Health and Mental Hygiene the number of statewide deadly overdoses increased by a whopping 66% from 2015 to 2016. This puts last year’s total number of deaths at 2,089, which is the highest ever and triple the amount from 2010. About one third of these deaths occurred in Baltimore City, with the majority of the others occurring in Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties. Prince George’s County and Montgomery County rounded out the top five of this unfortunate statistic. Only two jurisdictions, Cecil County and St. Mary’s County reported declines in the number of deadly overdoses from 2015 to 2016.

The majority of victims were found with multiple drugs in their system, and not surprisingly the most common drugs present in the deceased were heroin and fentanyl. These two opioids have been public enemy number one in both urban and rural areas in the region for the last couple of years. The rise of fentanyl has been well documented but despite the awareness there are no signs that it even remotely close to being controlled. This deadly synthetic opioid, which is often mixed with or sold as heroin, contributed to over 1,100 Maryland deaths in 2016, up from 350 in 2015.   Alcohol, which continues to get a pass in due to its deep roots in American culture, contributed to around 30% of the deaths and cocaine to around a quarter. Prescription opioids such as morphine and oxycodone that were once a leading cause of overdoses were just the fourth leading cause last year in the state.

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handgun-231699_640-300x169Federal law enforcement officers from agencies such as the FBI, DEA and ATF rarely patrol our streets, and they have far less contact with the public than state and local officers. As a result, common firearms crimes such as possession of a handgun are typically handled in state court, as local police officers are usually the ones making the arrests on these cases. A typical federal firearms case could involve the ATF busting an illegal gun trafficking ring or the DEA making a drug bust and seizing firearms in the process. Each of these examples usually involves a formal investigation possibly including confidential informants, wiretaps and search warrants where the feds continue to build a case as the crime is ongoing. In contrast a state firearms case typically starts as a traffic stop or a call to investigate a completed crime. This type of case rarely ends up in U.S. court, but federal prosecutors in Baltimore are trying to get the word out that no gun case is too trivial for their caseload.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland recently announced that five men have been found guilty of federal firearms crimes that originated in state court. Four were Baltimore City cases and one was an Anne Arundel County case. The men were originally facing charges in the respective state circuit courts, but these cases were all closed after the assistant state’s attorneys announced them as nolle prosequi and forwarded the files over to their federal counterparts. The charges the men are facing vary, as two are charged with illegal gun possession, two are charged in relation to drug trafficking and one in relation to an assault. But the one constant is that all five of the defendants were convicted of a felony prior to being arrested on the current charges. Federal prosecutors in Baltimore are taking affirmative measures to let state prosecutors know they will gladly take any case that involves possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. With resources that dwarf its state court neighbors, the Baltimore federal court has a much higher conviction rate for gun crimes, and the  criminal code may provide higher penalties in some cases. Currently a defendant in U.S. court for illegal possession of a handgun faces up to 10 years in prison. A defendant who carries a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence or a drug trafficking crime faces an additional 5-year mandatory sentence. If the gun is brandished the mandatory sentence increases to 7 years, and if it is fired it increases yet again to 10 years. There are also mandatory penalties for crimes involving assault weapons and short-barreled shotguns and rifles.

There is a broad class of individuals that are prohibited from possessing a firearm under U.S. law; if you think only convicted felons are prohibited then think again. In reality any person convicted of a crime that carries a maximum penalty of more than a year, anyone who is an unlawful user of a controlled substance and anyone convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence could face federal firearms charges for possessing a gun. Each of the five men currently in custody and awaiting sentencing has learned the hard way that the feds are not messing around when it comes to gun possession in Baltimore. However it remains to be seen whether these efforts will serve as a deterrent to future offenders. The Blog will continue to follow these five cases as well as other state cases that are picked up by the feds. We may post a follow up article in the future so stay tuned. Benjamin Herbst is a state and federal gun lawyer that handles illegal possession by a convicted felon and transportation cases in all Maryland courts. Contact Benjamin for a free consultation about your case anytime at 410-207-2598.

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drink-driving-808790_960_720-300x200Three State Police Troopers were injured last week in two separate drunk driving related accidents. Both accidents occurred in Prince George’s County and in an even greater coincidence both took place on Route 4. Also known as Pennsylvania Avenue, Route 4 runs from Washington D.C. to Calvert County, and passes through Upper Marlboro and Dunkirk. With easy access to and from 495 it is a highway that has witnessed more than its share of drug and alcohol related traffic incidents. State and local law enforcement officers frequently patrol this stretch of road, and have a heightened awareness for DUI on nights and weekends. These two recent accidents should only serve to increase the police presence in the coming months.

The first accident last week occurred around 3:30 a.m. as a trooper was attending to a disabled vehicle. While the trooper was stopped on the side of the highway an SUV driven by a 37 year old man from Upper Marlboro collided into his police cruiser. The impact then sent the cruiser lunging forward into a pedestrian who was standing beside a guardrail. Both the trooper and the pedestrian were taken to the hospital, while the SUV driver was arrested on multiple traffic citations and taken into custody by another trooper from the Forestville Barrack. The man now faces charges of DUI, DWI, reckless and negligent driving, failure to control speed to avoid a collision and willfully disobeying the direction of a police officer. He is currently awaiting a trial date in the District Court of Maryland for Prince George’s County not far from the scene of the accident.

The second accident occurred just a few days later after two troopers in separate police cruisers were responding to a call about a suspected impaired driver traveling the wrong way on the highway. In efforts to locate the impaired driver one of the troopers accidentally rear-ended the other, sending the lead car across the median and down an embankment. Both troopers were taken to the hospital, with one being air lifted to shock trauma in Baltimore. An officer from the Natural Resources Police later arrested the suspect that the troopers were trying to locate. This suspect did not contribute directly to an accident so will likely only face standard DUI and DWI charges, but you can bet that the prosecutor will call attention to the fact that two troopers were injured in the pursuit.

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backhoe-413903_1280-300x158Police are on the hunt for a brazen thief who recently attempted to steal an ATM machine with a construction backhoe in Prince George’s County. The failed heist was caught on closed circuit television cameras stationed on the exterior of a Capital Heights bank, and the footage was later handed over to police. The video shows an unidentified person riding up to the bank parking lot aboard a tractor, which investigators determined was driven several miles on public roads to reach the scene of the crime. Upon arriving, the suspect positioned the excavating equipment for maximum destruction and repeatedly used its backhoe to strike the unsuspecting cash machine. Sparks and pieces of plastic flew, and after a minute or so the cash machine was unrecognizable. Fortunately though the ATM’s thick armor proved too strong for the backhoe to penetrate, and the suspect fled the scene with no extra cash in hand. In the valiant effort to retain all its legal tender, the ATM did suffer an estimated $10,000 worth of damages.

Prince George’s County police detectives have reason to believe this theft was related to a prior successful ATM theft at a tobacco shop, where the perpetrator gained entry through the roof. In addition to stealing cash the unidentified perp also made out with hundreds of cartons of cigarettes. It is unclear why detectives believe the two unorthodox crimes are related, or whether they have any legitimate leads on a possible suspect. If a suspect happens to be apprehended then he or she will face a slew of charges in the district and circuit courts in Hyattsville and Upper Marlboro. In the backhoe case the suspect would likely be charged with motor vehicle theft, trespass and malicious destruction of property. The particular theft charge filed in this case would depend on the amount of cash inside the ATM. Police would have the bank open the machine and total up the value of the bills, and any amount over $1,000 would trigger a felony theft charge. Prosecutors could even add the value of the machine itself, which would surely escalate the charge to a theft $10,000 to $100,000.

If police crack the tobacco shop case the defendant would face similar charges to the ATM case, with the addition of felony burglary counts. The act of breaking into a store with the intent to steal something would generally trigger a charge of second degree burglary that carries a maximum jail sentence of 15 years. If a burglar steals a firearm the punishment could increase to a maximum 20 years, which is the same penalty as a first degree home burglary. The Blog will continue to follow this case to see if police develop any leads that could produce a suspect. Investigators may have a tough time unless the thief left any physical evidence behind such as personal belongings or perhaps DNA and fingerprints. Police did not release the entire video to the public, including the part where the suspect fled so there may already be some leads. We will post another article if police catch a break and end up making an arrest. Benjamin Herbst handles burglary, theft and malicious destruction of property cases in all Maryland courts. If you have a case or a question feel free to call Benjamin anytime to discuss.

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marijuana-1281540_1280-300x225A recent Maryland Court of Appeals order likely prevented months of further delays to the medical marijuana program, and now registered patients may have access to cannabis by the end of the summer. The high court order blocked a Baltimore City judge from conducting a hearing about whether to stop the state medical cannabis commission from issuing more final grow licenses. Only one of the fifteen approved growers currently has a final license that allows the legal commencement of the cultivation process. The other fourteen were not able to secure a final license under the Baltimore City Circuit Court judge’s temporary restraining order, which was requested by minority owned grow companies that were not one of the fifteen to receive preliminary licenses to operate. The restraining order was supposed to expire on the date of the hearing, but now there will be no hearing and the order has expired.

The Court of Appeals did not release a full opinion on the matter, but rather stayed the restraining order portion of the lawsuit that is challenging whether the licensing process took race into account as required by law. The disgruntled growers requested the restraining order after arguing they would suffer greater harm should the medical marijuana program be allowed to proceed before their lawsuit is resolved. The Baltimore judge had barred the fourteen growers awaiting final licenses from participating in the restraining order hearing, which raised issues of fairness and standing, and may have prompted the Court of Appeals to issue the emergency order. Another issue the high court likely considered was the amount of money the licensed growers invested and stood to lose if the growing process was halted indefinitely. Lawyers argued that the companies who received preliminary licenses invested over $150 million in final preparation to begin growing and distributing.

Over the last four years most of the news headlines pertaining to medical marijuana here in Maryland have focused on incompetence, delays and corruption. News of the recent order by the Court of Appeals appears to buck this trend, and we could finally be approaching the home stretch where the first dose of medical cannabis reaches a patient in need. Estimates of the program officially becoming active in late summer are cautiously optimistic, but at this point there does not appear to be any impending issues that could threaten this timeline. There is always the risk that the federal government could somehow get involved, though this appears unlikely. The state’s highest court has spoken rather loudly that it believes medical marijuana should proceed without further delay. Whether the program could abruptly be halted sometime again in the future is another question, and one that will constantly be hanging over the heads of the licensed growers, distributors and patients. It has been argued that the licensing process was unconstitutional at its core, and this issue will be resolved in court or by way of negotiated settlement. A settlement however would likely have to involve the legislature granting additional license to the aggrieved parties, which is a long shot and would have legal issues of its own. For now though the medical cannabis program steams ahead and the Blog will continue to follow any more potential hiccups.