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jaguar-1366978_960_720-300x169Baltimore County Police have reported a 542% increase in juvenile motor vehicle thefts this year compared to last year, with some of the offenders being as young as 12 years old.  The trend is especially concerning to police because the vehicles are often used to commit other offenses such as robbery, burglary and theft and even murder.  Surveillance cameras affixed to street lights, business and home doorbells are a powerful law enforcement tool to track vehicles that are involved in crimes, but if the cars are stolen these leads will often turn up empty.  Hyundai and Kia vehicles from the end of the last decade have been a prime target for these thefts due to their lack of electronic immobilizers, but detectives from the auto theft task force have been adamant that almost all cars are at risk.  It’s often as simple as a person leaving the keys in vehicle, as would be thieves often try to open dozens of car doors before finding an easy target.  Auto theft detectives have expressed frustration over the Maryland juvenile criminal system, as young car thieves are routinely released from custody almost immediately.  In their opinion this has led to a rash of repeat offenses, because there is little deterrent to continuing to commit theft crimes.

The rise in juvenile car thefts is not limited to Baltimore County, as theft and unlawful taking of a motor vehicle are common juvenile offenses all over the state of Maryland.  Just last week four teenagers were arrested theft and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle in Charles County.  As is the normal course of non-violent juvenile cases, the teens were set to be released to guardians, but it turned out that the guardians showed up to the police station in a stolen vehicle themselves.  The guardians were dropped off at the police station without incident, and officers went looking for the car after they realized it was stolen.  Upon seeing police, the driver of the vehicle panicked and allegedly almost hit one of the police officers as he was attempting to flee.  Cops eventually stopped the car, and three more juveniles were located in this stolen vehicle and charged with unauthorized use.  One of the juveniles was a 16-year-old with outstanding arrest warrants and another was a 13-year-old girl who was reported missing from another county.

This incident happened on the same day that 5 young adults were also arrested for motor vehicle theft in Charles County after officers patrolling in Waldorf located two stolen Hyundais in front of a business.  Officers attempted to conduct a traffic stop of these vehicles but the driver fled.  All five suspects were eventually arrested and charged related to this vehicle and allegedly several others.  One of the defendants, a 21-year-old male from Washington D.C. was held without bail, likely due to the fact that he has another open motor vehicle theft case in Howard County and an open burglary case in Charles County.  By all accounts this means there were at least 10 juveniles or young adults arrested in Charles County for auto theft related charges in a single day, so it’s no surprise the numbers are skyrocketing in Baltimore County as well.

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1398073_security_fence_4-300x200Back in February a Wicomico County jury found a 49-year-old man guilty of assault in the first and second degree and an additional count of reckless endangerment.  The domestically related incident occurred last summer, but the case was not closed until a recent sentencing hearing.  According to facts presented at trial the defendant and the victim began arguing while traveling in the victim’s vehicle.  The argument then turned physical when the pair arrived at the victim’s residence, and at one point victim lost consciousness while being assaulted.  Testimony from the victim revealed that when she regained consciousness the defendant had his hands around her neck, thus triggering first degree assault charges based on strangulation.  Trial lasted two days at the Circuit Court for Wicomico County in Salisbury, and then sentencing was postponed until May after the jury announced its verdict.

Delayed sentencing hearings are commonplace in most jury trials, especially violent felony cases where a conviction typically leads to a prison sentence.  The delay allows the state and defense to prepare for sentencing as well as for the judge to order a pre-sentence investigation or PSI.  In this particular case the judge handed down a 15-year prison sentence on the first-degree assault charge, which carries a maximum penalty of 25 years.  The other counts of assault second degree and reckless endangerment merged into the 15-year sentence.  Based on the fact that first degree assault is defined as a crime of violence, the defendant will have to serve at least 7.5 years before he is eligible for parole.  The defendant, who filed an appeal shortly after being sentenced, also faces an additional 3-years for a probation violation that is scheduled for sentencing in June.  The defendant is on probation in Wicomico County for a second-degree assault charge from that occurred in 2018, but was resolved in 2019.  Considering the defendant was given a straight 15-year sentence (no probation) on the felony assault, his probation will likely be revoked.  The only thing left to determine is whether the back-up time will be concurrent or consecutive to his new sentence.

Upon first glance, 15 years in prison may seem like an overly harsh sentence for a case where there was no weapon used and seemingly no allegation of permanent injury to the victim.  On the other hand, the defendant was already on probation for an assault, and has an extensive criminal history including at least three prior assault convictions.  Factoring in prior probation violations and his criminal record the defendant likely qualified as a major offender under the Maryland Sentencing Guidelines.  Therefore, his guidelines range for first degree assault with a minor victim injury would be 10 to 20 years of incarceration, and it looks like the judge gave him a sentence right in the middle of the guidelines.  First degree assault carries a harsh sentence under Maryland law, as the guidelines ranges are significantly higher than second degree assault.  The Blog may post a follow up article after this individual appears at this violation of probation hearing, and again if his appeal ends up being successful.

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msp-300x169Anne Arundel County Police recently arrested an off-duty Maryland State Trooper after he was accused of sexual assaulting a woman and refusing to let her leave her own home.  According to reports, the trooper and the alleged victim were longtime friends who apparently went out drinking together at a local bar.  After leaving the bar, the pair took an Uber back to the woman’s home, and things allegedly became violent after the woman refused the trooper’s sexual advances.  When county police officers arrived at the Pasadena home around 4 a.m., they observed the woman with injuries to her face, which gave police probable cause to make an arrest.  Despite the violent nature of the charges, the trooper was released on his own recognizance by a District Court Commissioner, and is now scheduled to stand trial in late July at the Glen Burnie District Courthouse.  He is charged with second degree assault, fourth degree sex offense and false imprisonment, and has been suspended with pay pending the outcome of the case and an internal investigation by MSP.  The 34-year-old trooper is a 10-year MSP veteran who was recently assigned to the Westminster Barrack in Carroll County after also patrolling in Howard County.

Police were originally called to the scene by the alleged victim’s husband, who dialed 911 in response to frantic texts from his wife stating that she was in danger.  Although the alleged victim reportedly refused to sign a written statement, she did tell police that the trooper attempted to put his hands down her pants and up her shirt, attempted take her clothes off and then slammed her head on the kitchen counter multiple times when she refused.  The Blog will continue to follow this case, and may post another article in the future when the case is resolved.  As with most domestic violence cases, the victim will have a say in how this case is prosecuted, but not the final say.  It is common in cases like this for the state to potentially dismiss the fourth-degree sex offense and false imprisonment charges pursuant to a plea agreement, but it is way too early to make an educated prediction about this particular case.  If police did in fact observe injuries consistent with the alleged victim’s statement, then the state would likely proceed on the second-degree assault charges.  The defendant could potentially avoid a conviction if the state is willing to place the case on STET with conditions such as anger management and alcohol education, but this could be a long shot based on these facts.  If the alleged victim is uncooperative, recants or is unavailable things could swing more in the trooper’s favor, but his employment would still almost certainly be in jeopardy.

While assault in the second degree has a higher maximum penalty than 4th degree sex offense, a conviction in Maryland for sex offense in the fourth degree may require a person to register as a Tier 1 sex offender for 15 years.  There are three tiers of sex offender registrants under Maryland law, with Tier 3 being the highest.  Tier 3 offenders must register every 3 months for life, and Tier 2 offenders must register every 6 months for 25 years.  In addition to 4th degree sex offense, other Tier 1 offenses include possession of child pornography and visual surveillance with prurient intent.  Common Tier 2 offenses include distribution of child pornography, 3rd degree sex offense, human trafficking and sexual solicitation of a minor.  Tier 3 crimes are typically violent offenses such as rape, child kidnapping, sex offenses with force and sexual abuse of a minor.

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1164850_law_badge-272x300Anne Arundel County Police recently arrested a 64-year-old man from Annapolis after he was allegedly wandering around Jennifer Road sporting an FBI hat and a gold-colored badge around his neck.  Police responded to the scene to make contact with the man, where he allegedly informed officers that he was an ATF agent.  To make matters worse the man also reportedly exposed himself and urinated in the road.  Police were eventually able to arrest the man, and later charged him with impersonating an officer, indecent exposure, disorderly conduct and a violation of the alcohol and beverage code for disorderly intoxication.  The man was ultimately released on his own recognizance for the impersonation charge, but he remains locked up at the detention center due to a separate case involving possession of a loaded handgun and intoxicated endangerment.

Just one day after the defendant was released on the impersonating charge, he allegedly showed up at the Anne Arundel Medical Center and threatened to kill a patient.  The threat was made to third party and not directly to the patient.  The man was escorted outside the hospital by security, and when police showed up, he was found to be in possession of two firearms.  He was arrested and charged with two counts of firearm possession and intoxicated endangerment for his behavior toward the hospital staff.  Responding officers initially recommended charges of first-degree assault, but since the threat to kill was made to a third party, the law does not support a charge for assault.  The defendant also did not brandish or point his firearms at anyone, and thus there was no evidence to support assault with a firearm.  After being arrested and booked the defendant was held without bail and committed to the hospital for further evaluation.  At the station he took a preliminary breath test, which revealed an alcohol content of almost three times the legal limit to drive.

During the time between the male defendant’s two arrests, another individual was arrested for impersonating an officer in Anne Arundel County.  Just 5 hours after the man was initially arrested on Jennifer Road, a 32-year-old Glen Burnie woman was arrested under similar circumstances.  Around 10 p.m. Anne Arundel County Police responded to a gas station for a call about a woman asking to buy drugs from patrons.  Police made contact with the woman as she was seated in her vehicle and noticed her sitting with her head slumped over, and suspect cocaine and a straw in the center console.  The responding officer also noticed signs of impairment when talking to woman.  According to the charging document the woman told the officer she was an undercover police officer herself, but could not provide any further proof.  Based on these observations the officer ordered the woman out of the vehicle to investigate further, but she refused to comply.  After a struggle that lasted more than 5 minutes the officer was eventually able to detain the woman.  She was ultimately charged with DUI, impersonating an officer, possession of CDS, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, obstructing and hindering and disorderly intoxication.  Under Maryland law a person can be charged with DUI even if they were not actually driving.  The law only requires the State to prove a person intended to drive.  Intent can be proven with evidence a person was in physical control of a motor vehicle, which typically means they are in the driver’s seat with the keys accessible.  This defendant was held without bail by a judge at the Glen Burnie District Court the following day, and remains in custody.

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courtroom-898931_1280-300x226Next week four defendants will be brought to trial at the Baltimore County Circuit Court for their alleged involvement in a stabbing that resulted in the death of a 45-year-old man.  The incident occurred in February of 2021 in the parking lot of a Dundalk restaurant and bar, though arrests were not made until April of 2022.  Six individuals were initially charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and first-degree assault, but one was cleared a short time later.  Two of the defendants were ultimately released from custody pending trial, and three remain held without bail.  One of the defendants who was released from custody has agreed to testify as a state’s witness, and this week, lawyers for the remaining four defendants engaged in heated arguments over late evidence and evidence that the State neglected to disclose.  Despite numerous evidentiary issues, the case remains on track to be tried beginning on May 1.  The cooperating witness’ trial is scheduled separately in June, and assuming he testifies per his agreement with the State, he will likely enter into a favorable plea agreement.

Despite the incident occurring in 2021 and being originally charged in 2022, state prosecutors decided to file a superseding indictment just two weeks ago that added charges of accessory after the fact to murder in the first degree for some of the defendants.  This became a major issue for the respective defense teams, who now have to scramble to adjust their defenses to account for the new charges.  The state claimed the late charges were due to unavoidable delays related to the FBI’s cell phone location data crime lab.  The state maintained that they turned over the evidence as soon as it became available, though far too late in the eyes of the defense lawyers.  Cell phone tracking data is often difficult in interpret and can require an expert to explain to

 laymen such as jurors in a criminal case.  Defense lawyers argued that securing an expert could take weeks if not months, and therefore the late cell phone data should be excluded.  Typically, when the state provides late evidence, the remedy would be to postpone the case, but when defendants are sitting in jail this becomes extremely prejudicial.  No defendant should have to sit in jail awaiting trial longer than necessary, and unfortunately in a Maryland murder case there is a low chance that the judge would consider releasing a defendant due to a state’s postponement.

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pistol-1350484_1280-300x200The House and Senate approved Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 824, and both will almost certainly become law on October 1, 2023.  House Bill 824 did not receive much fanfare, but will further tighten Maryland’s already strict gun laws.  The Bill, which was introduced by a Delegate who also serves as an Assistant State’s Attorney in Anne Arundel County, expands prohibitions on regulated firearm possession under the Public Safety Code.  Starting in the Fall anyone who is one supervised probation for an offense that carries a maximum penalty of 1 year or more in jail will not be able to possess a firearm.  The new prohibition also includes those on probation for DUI or DWI under the §21-902 (a) and (b) of the Transportation Article.  Defendants on probation for violating a protective order would also be prohibited from possessing a regulated firearm.  This provision only applies to individuals who are placed on supervised probation after being convicted, which means that those granted probation before judgment would not be subject to a charge under the Public Safety Code for possessing a firearm while on probation.  It is important to remember that those on supervised probation are typically prohibited from possessing firearms unless a judge specifically allows it.  This is standard condition of probation in Maryland, though a violation would be considered a technical probation violation and not a new offense.  Technical violations of probation carry a presumptive maximum penalty of 15 days in jail, while a violation of this new provision in the Public Safety Code would be a misdemeanor with a 5-year maximum penalty.

House Bill 824 also prohibits a person from obtaining a Maryland wear and carry license if he or she has been convicted of a violation of criminal law section 4-104, which prohibits storing or leaving a loaded firearm in a place where an unsupervised minor could gain access to the firearm, and an injury or death resulted.  If there was no injury the prohibition would only extend to a person convicted of a second or subsequent violation of this provision.  Offenders who receive a conviction for child’s access to firearms after October 1, 2023 will have to wait five years from the date of the conviction to apply for a handgun permit.  The bill also raised the permit fee to $125, up from $75.

Senate Bill 1 received most of the media attention, and will likely continue to create news headlines after it becomes law in October.  We wrote about this bill previously, and the version that passed the General Assembly was not substantially altered from our last post.  This law will have major restrictions on where licensed individuals can possess firearms, including prohibiting possession at schools, concerts, sporting events, organized youth and adult sports leagues and state government buildings.  A violation under this new law would result in a misdemeanor that carries up to 90 days in jail for a first offense, and up to 15 months for each violation thereafter.  Firearm possession is already illegal in federal facilities and buildings in Maryland under federal law regardless if a person holds a Maryland concealed carry permit.

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jaguar-1366978_960_720-300x169Over the past week Prince George’s County Police officers arrested six boys in connection with two separate carjacking incidents.  The boys were also charged with illegal firearm possession after police located ghost guns in their possession.  The first arrest occurred at the end of last week when police located a vehicle that had been carjacked three days earlier.  After making a felony traffic stop, officers located four teenaged boys from Washington D.C. inside the vehicle and also recovered a loaded ghost gun.  All four were arrested and charged with multiple serious crimes, though it appears they will be charged as juveniles due to the fact that they were 15 at the time of the incident.  It is unclear whether the juveniles were released to their parents or remain detained at a secure juvenile facility.

The four boys will  cclappear at the Prince George’s County Circuit Court for their respective trials.  While the cases will start out in the juvenile court, the State may choose to seek a discretionary waiver for some or all of the juveniles.  Maryland law allows a judge to order the transfer of a case to adult court for a 15-year-old defendant if a finding is made that the child is not fit for juvenile rehabilitative measures.  A child under 15 can only be prosecuted in adult court for an offense such as murder that carries life in prison.  Juvenile discretionary waivers are rare, and in all likelihood would not be utilized for a carjacking case unless the juvenile has an extensive history of violence.  Carjacking by definition is a serious offense, but if the facts are especially egregious the Court certainly could consider a discretionary waiver.

Just four days later Prince George’s County officers made yet another carjacking arrest.  The suspects in this case were also juveniles, with one being a 16-year-old from Fort Washington, and the other a 17-year-old from Temple Hills.  Police received a call for an attempted armed carjacking on April 3 at around 1:30 p.m. in District Heights.  When officers arrived, they observed two suspects running from the scene and were ultimately able to take them into custody.  Search incident to arrest revealed that both juveniles were in possession of loaded ghost guns.  In the first three months of 2023 alone 32 juveniles and 19 adults have been arrested for carjacking in Prince George’s County.  This alarming trend

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prison-300x201Analyzing the yearly crime rates provides for quick talking points, but rarely provides enough data to make accurate conclusions about larger trends in crime.  Therefore, a more effective way to measure the direction of a state, county or city is to measure trends by the decade.  This can be a tedious process, but overall paints a better picture of where our communities stand.  Yearly crime data compiled by the Governor’s Office of Crime Prevention is not officially released for a given year until about two years have passed.  Data from 2020 was recently released, and after examining trends from 2011 through 2020 the major takeaway is that overall crime has dropped, but certain violent crimes have not followed suit.

Property crimes such as burglary have steadily declined, with overall numbers decreasing from roughly 30,000 cases in 2011 to less than 15,000 in 2020.  Motor vehicle thefts have also decreased from about 16,000 cases in 2011 to about 10,500 in 2020.  Motor vehicle theft cases have been steadily decreasing over the past several decades due to technological advances in cars, but a 33% decrease in 10 years is still significant.  Overall, in 2011 there were a total of 114,871 reported theft cases in Maryland, and in 2020 there were 72,865.  This decrease in property crimes cannot be ignored, and is hopefully a sign of better times ahead.  On the other hand, there is still cause for concern about the number of violent offenses committed in Maryland each year.

In 2020 there were 573 homicide cases in Maryland, which is the highest number in almost 25 years when the state reported 588 homicides in 1996.  334 of these homicides were committed in Baltimore City, and 92% were committed with a firearm.  Also, less than half of these homicides (47%) resulted in an arrest, which is a staggering percentage.  There were significantly more reported rape case in 2020 than in 2011, and as a whole both the homicide and rape numbers seem to be steadily increasing over the last 5 years.  The rape numbers may have increased due to greater awareness and a higher percentage of these cases being reported to law enforcement.  Aggravated assault cases, including first degree assault by strangulation or assault with a firearm, have been decreasing slightly and robbery numbers are down throughout the state, but neither of these trends makes up for the increasing murder and rape numbers.  What is significant is that 2020 saw the fewest incidents of reported violent crime in Maryland since the beginning of the record keeping in 1980.  Part of this relatively low number in 2020 could be attributed to Covid and people staying at home, so it should be taken with a grain of salt, but the progress is undeniable.

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thirteen-bags-of-marijuana-found-in-taxi-cabThe legalization of marijuana in Maryland will have a much broader reach than simply eliminating the prosecution of marijuana possession cases.  Perhaps the largest collateral consequence of legalization is the effect it will have on law enforcement’s ability to search a vehicle.  Even after marijuana possession was decriminalized police officers in Maryland maintained the ability to search a car based on the odor of marijuana. Police lost the ability to search a person and his or her belongings, but vehicles have been fair game.  In fact, a police officer can technically initiate a traffic stop based on the odor of marijuana, without even observing a traffic violation.

A massive number of criminal cases start with the search of a suspect’s vehicle.  Traffic stops are some of the only up-close encounters citizens ever have with police, and thus law enforcement agencies train their officers to take full advantage of these encounters.  Police are trained to identify individuals who are likely to be engaged in criminal activity, and then to continue to develop them as suspects.  Officers are permitted to initiate a traffic stop even if their ultimate goal is to obtain probable cause to search a vehicle.  Pretextual stops, where officers wait for a vehicle to commit a minor traffic infraction with the larger goal of investigating a more serious offense, have always survived constitutional challenges.  At the present time one of the most common ways to bridge pretextual and ordinary traffic stops to a probable cause search is the smell of marijuana.  These stops account for a great deal of arrests for gun and drug possession cases, but the legalization of marijuana looks to throw a wrench in this common law enforcement tactic.

When marijuana becomes legal in Maryland on July 1, 2023 it will no longer be considered contraband and thus cannot be used to justify a criminal detention and search.  This is something that law enforcement agencies and prosecutors have been planning for, but there is currently no policy in place that actually states a police officer will not be able to perform a search after smelling burnt or raw cannabis.  It would have been a major waste of resources to simply do nothing and wait for a defendant to challenge a search in court.  This path would have forced the Supreme Court of Maryland to establish the policy, but clearly having the legislature enact a law would be the preferred option.  House Bill 1071 does just that, and after passing easily (99-34) in the House is headed for a vote in the Senate.

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holster-648014__480-300x206Senate Bill 1 sparked heated debate when it was first introduced at the beginning of the 2023 Maryland Legislative Session.  The debate was heated for good reason, as the bill originally proposed massive restrictions on where a licensed individual could possess a firearm.  We were skeptical from the outset about some of the bill’s language, which included banning all otherwise legally owned and possessed firearms within 100 feet of a place of public accommodation.  The phrase public accommodation included basically all public indoor spaces such as restaurants, stores and shopping centers, and even included outdoor spaces where people gather to eat, shop or be entertained.  Possession of a lawfully owned firearm would have also been prohibited at hotels and inns under the original proposal.  The overly broad language in the first proposal would have never stood a chance at surviving constitutional challenges, and enforcement would have been a nightmare even if it did temporarily become law.  As such, the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee did its job and drastically modified the bill in order to give it a shot of passing Constitutional scrutiny, and as of this week the bill has officially been approved in the Senate.

The revised version of Senate Bill 1 has several new restrictions that take the place of the original public accommodation language in the first draft of the bill.  If the current SB 1 becomes law, holders of a Maryland wear and carry permit would be prohibited from carrying in an area for children or vulnerable individuals.  This section would apply to daycares and public or private secondary schools, youth camps, health care facilities and shelters for runaway youth.  The proposal would also prohibit firearm possession in Government or Public Infrastructure areas, which include buildings owned or leased by the state or local government, college or university buildings, polling sites and electrical plants or storage facilities.  Additionally, the bill prohibits firearms at organized sporting or athletic activities between three or more individuals competing in the same league.  One of the broadest prohibitions would concern Special Purpose Areas, which include locations licensed to sell or dispense alcohol or cannabis for on-site consumption, and thus guns at bars would be outlawed.  Special purpose also includes stadiums, museums, live theater performances and concerts where the audience is required to pay or possess an admission ticket, fairs, carnivals, racetracks and video lottery facilities.

Law enforcement officers, active-duty military, correctional officers and even ROTC members are mostly excluded from these prohibitions, and not subject to the potential penalties that would include up to 90 days in jail and a $3,000 fine for a first offense and up to 15 months in prison and a $7,500 fine for subsequent violations.  Anyone who violates this law with the intent to injure another person faces the same 15-month penalty in addition to any other criminal violation found to have occurred.  There is also a provision in the bill that prohibits an individual from trespassing on another person’s property with a firearm after being warned that firearms are not allowed on the property.  Such a violation could bring misdemeanor charges that carry up to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine.

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