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car-1531277__480-300x200A veteran Anne Arundel County police officer has been arrested and charged with numerous felony offenses for allegedly stealing from the home of a deceased man in Pasadena.  Back in April multiple officers responded to the residence after a report of an unattended death.  The officer in question then returned to the house the next day in full uniform, and according to reports took cash and firearms with him.  A witness observed the officer removing the firearms from the house, but thought it was routine police activity.  The witness never mentioned what he saw until months later when a family member of the deceased homeowner called the department in search of the missing firearms for estate purposes.  The department started asking questions and ultimately came across the witness.

Detectives were probably surprised to learn their prime suspect was one of their own, but nonetheless proceeded to hone in on making an arrest.  Police executed a search warrant on the officer’s home in Linthicum and he was arrested soon thereafter.  The 5-year veteran officer was released on his own recognizance by a district court commissioner after being booked and charged with 6 different offenses including first-degree burglary, felony theft and misconduct in office.  He was also charged with third-degree burglary, fourth-degree burglary and felony theft scheme, and has been placed on leave without pay by the Anne Arundel County Police Department.  There is currently no preliminary hearing date set for the officer’s case, but regardless it will ultimately be forwarded to the Circuit Court for a resolution.

It is too early to tell whether this case will end up going to trial, but if detectives found the firearms during the execution of the search warrant then a guilty plea is almost a foregone conclusion.  While the officer is facing 6 total charges, his attorney will likely argue for the four felonies to be dismissed.  The State will probably push for a plea involving the misconduct in office charge, and one additional theft or burglary charge.  Misconduct in office is a common law offense in Maryland that does not have a set maximum penalty, but it is considered a misdemeanor. Whether the defense can convince the State to go on misdemeanor fourth-degree burglary remains to be seen, as this would ensure the officer does not end up with a felony conviction.

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joint-200x300Ocean City Police have issued more than 7 times the number of marijuana citations in May and June as they did those same months in 2019, and some local officials are getting concerned.  Last May police officers in Maryland’s only beachfront town wrote a measly 8 civil citations for marijuana possession less than 10 grams, and the number jumped slightly to 41 last June.  This May, Ocean City Police officers wrote 108 pot citations in May and 241 in June.  Marijuana has only been decriminalized for a couple years in Maryland and officers may not have thought it was worth their while to write the citations initially, but still the jump is far too significant to blame it on officers looking the other way.

City officials may attribute the jump to more and more citizens receiving their medical cannabis cards, but this likely is not the full story.  While we will never quite know the percentages of people who only started using marijuana when it became legal in Maryland, we suspect that most medical cannabis card holders used marijuana long before they were able to legally purchase it.  The drastic increase in marijuana citations is likely a result of beachgoers becoming more cavalier about public marijuana use.  OCMD tourists have traditionally been careless/ignorant when it comes to the town’s open container laws (open container of alcohol is punishable by jailtime in Ocean City), and now the word is out that you cannot be arrested for smoking pot in public.  Many tourists are in vacation mode and just not genuinely concerned about receiving a civil citation.  Also, based on last year’s statistics the word may be out that the police have looked the other way when it comes to lighting up around the boardwalk.  The high citation numbers this year may go a long way to changing that narrative, and we could less public consumption and fewer citations being issued to finish off the summer.  Town officials certainly hope this is the case, as they are always trying to preserve the family fun atmosphere around the boardwalk.

In addition to marijuana citations, OCPD has also been busier charging offenders with drug and weapons crimes.  Ocean City officers arrested 40 people each on drug and weapons charges in June of 2019, but this June those numbers jumped to 62 for drug crimes and 73 for weapons crimes.  Overall arrests also increased from 552 to 600 this June compared to last.  It is interesting to note that Ocean City police officers only issued 25 criminal citations.  Maryland allows its sworn law enforcement officers to issue criminal citations in leu of making an arrest, which is beneficial to both the suspect and the criminal justice system.  An arrest triggers a host of events including the time-consuming booking process.  Defendants must then see a District Court Commissioner, who determines the conditions of their bail or release on recognizance.  In addition to being held for a minimum of several hours, suspects who are arrested and booked will have a permanent arrest record that will become part of the FBI database.  These records are not eligible for expungement even if the case is dismissed, which is a huge and avoidable injustice.  The only legitimate reasons to arrest a suspect in leu of issuing a criminal citation would be serious concerns about public safety and the suspect’s ability to return to court.  Many Ocean City Police officers justify an arrest over a criminal citation based on the fact that the defendant does not live locally, and is thus less likely to return to court.  Realistically almost everyone who is charged with a crime in Ocean City during the summer is not an Ocean City resident, so this should not on its own support a decision to arrest.  We can only hope that police begin to think twice about arresting a suspect when they could just write a criminal citation.

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courtroom-898931_1280-300x226Federal law enforcement has made fentanyl a major priority, and last week a 26-year old Baltimore County man was sentenced to a decade in prison for possession with intent to distribute the deadly narcotic.  According to the statement of facts in the guilty plea, a Woodlawn man fled from Baltimore County Police after they tried to initiate a traffic stop.  During the pursuit officers allegedly observed the suspect throwing objects out of his car window as he fled.  Eventually police caught up with the suspect and search incident to arrest produced a digital scale and a baggie with 40 grams of fentanyl.  Had law enforcement stopped there the man would likely have been prosecuted in state court, but a search of his home pursuant to a warrant produced far more incriminating evidence.  Police ultimately discovered 3 kilograms of fentanyl and a loaded .380 caliber handgun.  The U.S. Attorney’s Office stated in its press release that this amount of fentanyl would be enough to kill 1.5 million people.  The suspect was also prohibited from possessing firearms based on a previous drug conviction in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County.  He also had an earlier drug possession conviction in Baltimore City and a probation before judgement for driving on a suspended license.

The facts of the case were not especially unique and from what we can see the defendant was not alleged to have been an interstate drug trafficker, but the federal government still elected to prosecute this case.  For the last several years the feds have picked up gun and drug cases arising from Baltimore City, but with the sheer amount of fentanyl plus a gun being involved it is no surprise this Baltimore County case went federal.  Most of the time a defendant would much rather be prosecuted in Maryland state court, as the sentencing guidelines are typically lower and there is parole.  However, under these circumstances the defendant likely would have received a similar sentence in state court, as he would have been subject to three Maryland mandatory sentence provisions.  Anyone who is found to be in possession of more than five grams of fentanyl faces a mandatory 5 years in prison.  Additionally, the possession of a firearm in a drug trafficking crime carries a 5-year minimum prison sentence under state law.  The Woodlawn man may have also been subject to charges for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon/ person with a drug conviction under 5-601.  This offense also carries a 5-year mandatory sentence that cannot be suspended unless the prior offense had been closed for more than 5 years.  Closed means probation and parole must have been completed.

The Blog will continue to follow cases traditionally prosecuted in state court that are picked up by federal law enforcement.  A general rule is that any convicted felon who is arrested with a gun in Baltimore City could face federal prosecution, but now it is clear the feds are branching out to the County and other Maryland jurisdictions.  Based on this press release it is also clear that federal law enforcement agencies are actively pursuing anyone involved in fentanyl distribution.  If you have been charged with a gun or drug crime anywhere in Maryland or Florida call criminal defense lawyer Benjamin Herbst anytime at 410-207-2598.  Benjamin specializes in charges for drug possessiondrug distribution, possession with intent to distribute and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon or disqualified person.  He offers free consultations and is available to defend clients from the Eastern Shore to Western Maryland.

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salmon-3139390__480-300x150A popular downtown Annapolis restaurant was burglarized last month, and the two suspects have yet to be identified or apprehended.  Unfortunately, dozens of businesses and homes are burglarized each day in Maryland, but this incident was particularly bizarre.  For starters, surveillance video showed the suspects entering the restaurant’s kitchen through an unlocked door while many members of the staff were still busing closing down after a night of business.  Rather than proceed to look for cash, liquor or other common valuable items, the burglars went straight to the walk-in refrigerator an emerged with approximately 40 salmon fillets.  At a cost of $10 per fillet, the total loss for the restaurant was around $400.  While not the heist of the year, this likely ranks as one of the largest fish thefts in Anne Arundel County in a while.

Annapolis Police first responded to the call after midnight following a busy post-quarantine Sunday night.  According to police, the manager was getting ready to head home when he noticed several salmon fillets sitting in the kitchen instead of their normal storage spot in the fridge.  He questioned his fellow employees, but none were able to provide an explanation about the mislaid fillets.  A trip to the office for a review of the security cameras quickly explained the situation, though it was likely not what the employees expected to see.  It is unclear whether the thieves performed a quick in and out job, or took their time to maximize their haul.  In the movies, a bank heist usually goes south when the robbers spend too much time in the vault.  These salmon thieves may have taken notice and limited their time in the walk-in refrigerator.

Had the pair have been caught in the act, or identified and arrested down the road they would have faced multiple criminal charges including second-degree burglary.  Second-degree burglary is defined as breaking and entering a storehouse (business) with the intent to commit a theft, arson or a crime of violence.  Contrary to common belief, breaking and entering does not mean the suspect actually has to break something to gain access to the interior of the building.  Opening an unlocked door and crossing through the doorway is enough of an intentional act to qualify as breaking and entering under Maryland law.  Second-degree burglary is a felony with a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison, though if a firearm was stolen it becomes a 20-year maximum.  Other states such as Florida have similar enhanced penalties when a burglary suspect steals a firearm during the course of the crime.  In Florida this becomes armed burglary, which is actually punishable by life in prison.  The suspects would also have been charged with theft less than $1,500, which is punishable by up to 6 months in jail.  If the suspects did not have lengthy criminal records the state would likely have offered a plea to theft, and kept the offense a misdemeanor.  The case is likely to remain as cold as the salmon left in the fridge, but if anything changes the Blog will be sure to post a follow up article.

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handcuffs-2102488__480-300x169Tens of thousands of people travel along Route 50 from Annapolis to Ocean City each summer, and few complete their journey without seeing a Maryland State Trooper parked in the median, or actively writing a traffic citation on the shoulder.  The state police have a highly visible presence on all major highways and interstates in Maryland, but it is a common misconception that troopers operate exclusively in a highway patrol capacity.  Highway patrol is a major function of the Maryland State Police; nearly 75 percent of all troopers are assigned to the Field Operations Bureau that patrols the state’s highways, but that still leaves a few hundred troopers who are assigned to other divisions of the agency.  The Criminal Investigative Bureau or CIB is another major branch of the MSP, and is responsible for investigating violent crimes and large-scale drug violations that occur across the state.  The CIB works in cooperation with county and local law enforcement from all corners of the state, and in this past week assisted in arresting suspects from Ocean City to Allegany County.

State police troopers from the CIB began last week by arresting a 36-year old mand from Frostburg on charges of second-degree assault and animal cruelty.  The Western Maryland man was released by a district court commissioner on a $2,500 unsecured personal bond, which he will only have to pay if he fails to appear in court.  The next day the Firearms Enforcement Unit of the CIB arrested a 27-year old Baltimore man on gun charges that included possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.  Another day passed and troopers from the CIB arrested a in Baltimore County man for possession of a firearm by a disqualified individual.  The state police used information from the Ocean City Police Department to make this arrest.  Troopers went on the arrest two more individuals on various charges this same day.  The first was arrested on an open arrest warrant in Baltimore City for making a false statement to an officer, and the second suspect was arrested in Cumberland on an arrest warrant for electronic harassment.

While none of these arrests will generate major news headlines on the traditional media outlets, they do serve as a reminder that state police troopers are actively investigating and pursuing suspects across Maryland.  Regular readers of the Blog are already aware that the governor has made state police resources available to fight violent crime and gun crime in Baltimore City, but gun crimes are a major priority for the MSP no matter where they occur.  Maryland has some of the toughest gun laws in the region, and law enforcement officers are not sympathetic to those who are unaware of just how strict the laws are.  State troopers, like all county and local police officers, will arrest any person who is illegally carrying or transporting a firearm without a concealed carry permit.  These permits are extremely difficult to obtain, and out-of-state permits are not valid in Maryland.  Anyone who owns a firearm should be extremely careful about taking their firearm outside of their home, and should regularly keep updated on all the applicable state gun laws.

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police-850054_960_720-300x212Ocean City has seen a dramatic increase in violent crime since welcoming tourists over the past few weeks, and government officials are extremely concerned.  The most serious incidents seem to be clustered around the Boardwalk in the southern part of the 8-mile stretch of beach, but arrests are up throughout the city.  Two weekends ago, the Ocean City Police Department reported 129 arrests compared to 95 during the same time last year.  This increase is even more alarming considering there are fewer visitors this summer due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  In response to the rise in violence, the police department has committed to increasing law enforcement presence by as much as 25 percent around town and on the Boardwalk.  The department will have to hire new officers to keep up with the demand, which will come at a considerable expense to Maryland’s only beachfront town.  The process of hiring new officers will also have to be accelerated due to the immediate demand, but the mayor’s office is confident the city council will be supportive.

Crime spikes hardly come as a surprise in Ocean City during the summer months, as upwards of a quarter million tourists flock from D.C., Maryland, and neighboring states such as Pennsylvania and West Virginia to vacation.  But the crime spikes are typically related to traffic and non-violent offenses.  Underage drinking and open container citations are especially common in Ocean City, and those who receive these citations are often surprised to learn they can have criminal consequences.  Carrying an open container is a crime under the Ocean City municipal code, which makes it punishable by up to 90 days in jail.  DUI is also common, as well as other alcohol induced offenses such as disorderly conduct and trespassing.  Alcohol and peer pressure also motivates the younger crown to indulge in shoplifting and other theft crimes, and arrests for possession with intent to distribute marijuana and narcotics majorly spike to meet the demand of those heading to OCMD to party.  These offenses come with the territory of a popular summer vacation spot with a booming nightlife, and they are crimes the police and Worcester County judicial system can easily keep under control.  The problem lately is that a large number of recent arrests have been for extremely violent offenses such as first-degree assault involving knives and firearms, and the last thing city and county officials want is for their cash cow tourist industry to suffer as a result of the town being labeled as unsafe.

Five suspects were recently arrested for a felony assault and weapons charges stemming from a fight that broke out on the Boardwalk, and all are being held without bail at the Worcester County Detention Center.  They are all scheduled for preliminary hearings at the district courthouse in Ocean City, but their cases will eventually be forwarded to the circuit court in Snow Hill.  Portions of the brawl were caught on video, and the incident received media attention around the state.  Apparently, late night crime has become so common on the Boardwalk that some business owners have become increasingly concerned about staying open late.  Fed up bar and restaurant owners have already started closing earlier than in years past in response to the violence.

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ambulance-5272148__480-300x200A 23-year old woman was arrested last week after she allegedly stole an ambulance from the West Annapolis Fire Station and then crashed it into a van.  The sole occupant of the van was flown to shock trauma with serious injuries, while the ambulance thief fled the scene of the accident on foot.  As a result of her fleeing the scene the young woman was not arrested until the next day, and is now out of custody after being released on her own recognizance.  She is facing charges for theft over $100,000, rogue and vagabond and motor vehicle theft.  Unlawful taking of a motor vehicle and theft over $100,000 are both district court felonies, and trial has been scheduled in October.  The woman has also been charged with reckless driving, negligent driving and driving without a license.  She may face additional charges for leaving the scene of an accident involving injury.  Reports did not offer an explanation of what prompted the woman to steal the ambulance as fire fighters were training when the vehicle was initially taken.  There is also no indication of what exactly caused the accident, though the woman did receive a citation for running a red light.  All told, this is a pretty bizarre scenario and whichever Anne Arundel County judge hears the case will likely not be too pleased with the defendant.

While the defendant does not appear to have a prior criminal record other than a drug possession case on STET, she may face an uphill battle in the fight to stay out of jail and keep her record free of a criminal conviction.  This is especially true if she ends up being charged with leaving the scene of an injury accident.  Despite being classified as a traffic offense and only carrying a 1-year maximum jail sentence, leaving the scene of an accident with bodily injury is an offense that prosecutors and judges take extremely seriously.  The defendant’s record of committing traffic offenses is lengthy, and she does not appear to have had a valid license recently.  There are numerous prior traffic cases in multiple different jurisdictions including Baltimore City, Prince George’s County and Anne Arundel County.  Ultimately her prior record of traffic convictions may come back to hurt her when her trial date comes around in the Fall.

The Blog will continue to follow this strange case, and may post a follow up article in the near future.  It is hard to think of a reasonable explanation why a person would steal an ambulance.  There may be valuable equipment in emergency vehicles, but we’re not talking about items you can simply sell at a pawn shop or trade at a local flea market.  Also, it is nearly impossible to elude law enforcement in a stolen ambulance, as they are easily recognizable and always GPS equipped.  There may in fact be more to this story but a logical explanation is unlikely.  As regular readers of our Blog are well aware, there are not always logical explanations to the behaviors of those leading up to an arrest.

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street-lamp-4843331_1280-300x200Two suspects have been charged after months of investigation into a series of copper wire thefts from light poles along the Baltimore Beltway.  Since April law enforcement has been investigating as many as four separate incidents where copper wire was forcibly removed from the state-owned poles lining the travel lanes of 695.  On the night the defendants were arrested, troopers responded to the Falls Road exit in the Lutherville-Timonium area of Baltimore County at around 4 in the morning.  It appears that the pair were caught in the act and eventually taken into custody without incident.  Following their arrest, the criminal investigations division of MSP along with help from the State Highway Administration connected the defendants to the three other thefts of similar nature.  According to state officials, the four thefts caused approximately $66k in damage to the existing poles.  As a result of the value of the damage and the cost of replacement, both defendants are facing multiple felony theft charges, as well as malicious destruction of property over $1,000.  The defendants are set to appear in the Essex District Court on September 3 for their trials, but there is a good chance this date could be pushed back, or that the cases will be moved to the Circuit Court for Baltimore County.

This recent arrest was hardly the first run in with the law for either defendant.  In fact, the pair are co-defendants in a pending theft with similar facts in Howard County.  One of the defendants actually has 4 open cases in multiple jurisdictions including Anne Arundel County, Harford County, Howard County and this Baltimore County case.  It also looks like the 45-year old Baltimore City man is facing a violation of probation for a Glen Burnie drug possession case.  The defendants look to have avoided the most serious theft charge of theft over $100k in this particular case, but still face up to 10 years in prison for each count of theft more than $25k.  They also could be looking at additional time for malicious destruction of property related to the damage caused to the light posts.  Both also face theft scheme charges for participating in multiple criminal acts, and will likely have thousands of dollars in restitution payments should they be found guilty.  One of the defendants is out of custody, while the other remains in the Baltimore County Detention Center in Towson on a no bail hold.  The judge likely considered this defendant was both a flight risk and a danger to the community based on his prior record and multiple pending charges.

The Blog will continue to follow this case and may post a follow up article in the future if anything newsworthy occurs in the case.  Both defendants face an uphill battle in this case based on their prior criminal record, and if convicted, the judge could be especially harsh considering the crimes were committed during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Benjamin Herbst is a Maryland criminal defense lawyer who specializes in theft charges in state and federal court.  He also handles in malicious destruction of property cases, and has successfully defended numerous clients in Baltimore County, Howard County, Harford County, Anne Arundel County and all other Maryland jurisdictions.  If you have a question about a criminal case feel free to call Benjamin anytime at 410-207-2598 for a no obligation consultation.  It is too much of a gamble to walk into criminal court without an experienced lawyer by your side, and there is no risk in speaking with Benjamin to see what defenses may be available in your case.

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joint-200x300The 2020 Maryland legislative session came and went without much fanfare, as any news coming out of Annapolis was largely overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Still, there were some interesting criminal law developments that came at the tail end of the shortened session.  For the last few years we have published multiple articles covering the state’s evolving marijuana policy.  Lawmakers and prosecutors have taken a firm stance on reducing the number of new marijuana cases in the criminal court system, and their efforts have produced significant results.  We have seen fewer marijuana possession cases each year, and most of the cases end up being resolved in a reasonable manner.  Lawmakers have also made a point to remove the negative stigma that follows anyone with a prior marijuana possession case.

Marijuana will eventually be legal for recreational use in Maryland and the rest of the country, and there is no reason why a person with a marijuana possession conviction should face discrimination from potential employers or the public in general.  Rather than wait until pot is actually legal to erase prior cases from the public record, lawmakers took the position to start this inevitable expungement process this year under House Bill 83.  The bill ordered the Maryland Judiciary to remove any information pertaining to District Court marijuana possession cases that were disposed prior to October 2014, as long as there were no other criminal counts attached to the case.  It seemed like a perfectly logical and just undertaking with little downside, and it passed easily in both the House and the Senate.  In fact, the Senate passed the bill 46-0 and while it seemed the process of erasing thousands of old pot possession cases would start in January of 2021, the governor had other ideas.

The governor vetoed House Bill 83 on May 7, and issued a letter to the leaders of the House and Senate explaining his decision.  The letter basically stated that as direct result of the legislature failing to pass his Violent Firearms Offenders Act a number of other criminal law bills were being vetoed.  This included the seemingly innocuous and remarkably uncontroversial marijuana expungement bill.  The governor did not specifically address his policy reasons for shutting down the bill or any other bills including one designed to preserve the confidentiality of juveniles charged as adults.  The veto was purely a political play; the governor didn’t get his way on one criminal law issue so he denied lawmakers on a few others.  Anyone with a six-year old or older marijuana possession case has to pay the price for a totally unrelated failed gun law.  Fortunately, these defendants will not have to wait long for their cases to be erased, as the General Assembly will almost certainly override the veto.  Defendants with newer marijuana possession convictions will eventually have their cases removed from public view by a similar bill to HB 83, though legalization of recreational use may happen sooner.  A defendant with a conviction for an offense that is no longer a crime under Maryland law is eligible for immediate expungement.

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graphics-882726_640-300x207Last Friday evening the Chief Judge of Maryland’s highest court issued an updated administrative order, which established a plan to reopen state courthouses this summer.  The previous order stated that the courts would be closed to the public through Friday June 5, but offered little guidance to how the courts would reopen that following Monday.  It was no surprise that a more comprehensive order would be forthcoming, and the only thing left in doubt was the timing.  Reopening in so called “phases” has become a sign of the times, and the courts are adopting this approach moving forward.  There will five phases according to the order, and they will gradually go into effect over the course of the next five months.

According to the order we will be in phase 1 until Friday June 5 at the close of business.  Phase 1 has been officially in effect since March 16, which seems like ages ago.  With respect to criminal cases, both the circuit and district courts of Maryland have been closed except for emergency hearings such as bail reviews, habeas corpus motions and emergency evaluation petitions.  Domestic violence protective orders and peace orders have been heard by district court commissioners, but there have been no final evidentiary hearings set in front of judges.  Phase 2 will begin at the close of business on June 5, and last through July 19. Courts will still be closed to the public during phase 2, but the circuit courts will begin to hear guilty pleas and deferred sentencing matters, so defendants will be permitted inside the courts.  It does not appear that the courts will hear any pleas that may result in a defendant being sentenced to immediate incarceration during phase 2.  The juvenile courts will still operate more or less on an emergency basis, and will not hear reverse waivers or dispositions that require testimony.  The district courts will begin to hear guilty pleas in phase 2 with no incarceration or deferred incarceration, and also preliminary hearings with agreed resolutions.  The overall theme of phase 2 is beginning to move cases that do not require witness testimony or that will result in immediate incarceration.

Monday July 20 appears to be a big day in the Maryland court system, as phase 3 will begin and the courthouses and the clerk’s offices will officially be open to the public.  They courts are still working on exact guidelines to limit capacity and promote social distancing, so it won’t simply be a free for all at 8:30 on the 20th.  The circuit courts will begin to hear cases with witness testimony including bench trials, pleas, violation of probation hearings, evidentiary motions and jury trial prayer status conferences.  The juvenile courts will begin to hear waiver hearings, dispositions and adjudications, and the district court will be permitted to conduct trials for incarcerated defendants and defendants facing DUI charges and charges involving violent acts such as assault in the second degree.  Phase 4 will begin on August 31, and mark the beginning of the minor traffic dockets in district court, as well as all other non-jury trials.  Things are scheduled to completely return to normal on October 5, when phase 5 begins and the circuit court resumes jury trials.

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