Back in February law enforcement officers from the St. Mary’s County Sherriff’s Office began investigating the buying and selling of firearms to minors, and at some point if became clear to officers that the target of their investigation was barely an adult himself. Police honed in on a then 18-year-old from Lexington Park, and their investigation led to a search warrant that was executed 4 days before the suspect turned 19. According to reports a search of the teenager’s home produced multiple regulated firearms, ammunition and parts to manufacture a rifle. It is unclear whether the suspect was at home during the execution of the warrant, but he was not arrested until two weeks after the search and seizure. The young defendant is now being held at the St. Mary’s County Detention Center in Leonardtown after bail was denied by the commissioner and then a district court judge. He is currently facing four misdemeanor charges including possession of a firearm by a minor, sale of ammo to a minor and two counts of illegal sale of a regulated firearm. Trial is currently set in the District Court of Maryland for St. Mary’s County in roughly two weeks. The Blog will follow this case and may post a follow-up article in the near future. The rest of this post will provide a small refresher for some of the most common gun laws in Maryland.
This defendant is facing charges under the Maryland Public Safety Code, which contains the majority of the state’s most serious gun laws, including possession of a firearm by a person under 21 years old. While wear, transport carry violations under 4-203 of the Maryland Criminal Law article remains the most common gun offense in the state, public safety code violations account for a much larger number of jail sentences. The Maryland public safety code provides harsh punishments for defendants who have criminal records, and in some cases, defendants can face a five-year mandatory prison sentence without the possibility of parole. Misdemeanor public safety code violations also result in higher guideline scores in cases that are handled in the Maryland circuit courts.
The main public safety law regarding the possession of regulated firearms is found in section 5-133. A person who has been convicted of a disqualifying crime faces up to five years in prison if found to be in possession of a firearm, but the charge remains a misdemeanor much like the wear, carry transport statute. Disqualifying crimes include all felonies and misdemeanors that carry more than a 2-year maximum penalty. It does not matter if the defendant actually served jail time on the prior disqualifying crime, as the only thing that matters is the statutory maximum. Prohibited individuals also cannot possess ammunition Maryland, and doing so could result in a misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year in jail. Disqualifying crimes also include violent crimes, but possession of a firearm by a person with a violent crime in their record faces a felony charge and up to 15 years in prison. If less than 5 years has passed since the defendant finished his or her sentence (including probation) on the violent crime the minimum mandatory will apply. Violent crimes include assault in the first or second degree, robbery, sexual offenses, felony burglary (first, second or third degree burglary), arson, attempted murder and several other offenses. A defendant in possession of a gun will also face the 15-year felony and potentially the 5-year mandatory of he or she has been convicted of a drug felony such as possession with intent to distribute. It is important to understand that probation before judgment or PBJ counts as a conviction for any of these offenses except second degree assault. The one exception is that PBJ for a domestically related conviction counts as a conviction for a crime of violence, though once the case is expunged it will not count as a conviction.