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holster-648014__480-300x206In an opinion that was hardly a surprise, the Supreme Court recently struck down a New York law that required citizens to prove a good reason why they should be able to carry a firearm outside of the home.  This case was of particular interest here due to the fact that the Maryland concealed carry permit law is almost indistinguishable to the New York law.  The Maryland State Police has long since required citizens to provide a good and substantial reason why they should be granted a concealed carry permit (officially known as a Handgun Wear and Carry Permit).  This clause is located in the Public Safety Code of the Maryland statutes under Title 5, which governs firearms.  Section 5-306 requires proof of a good and substantial reason to protect against apprehended danger, and typically only been satisfied by those whose occupations place them in reasonable fear for their life when outside of their home.  Certain business owners who carried large amounts of cash, or who operated in high crime areas had been some of the few who qualified for this permit.  The MSP has taken the official stance that they want all qualified individuals to be licensed to carry, but the good and substantial reason requirement still left many out in the cold when it came to permits.

Over the last month the tide has drastically shifted, as soon after the Supreme Court opinion was released the Maryland Governor and the Attorney General directed the State Police to immediately suspend the good and substantial reason requirement.  Currently applicants must only state their reason for the permit is for personal protection, and are not required to provide any sort of documentation to this effect.  The Supreme Court decision and subsequent change to the permit application has not gone unnoticed, and it seems that prospective applicants have been waiting on this news for some time.  From mid-June to mid-July of 2021 the MSP received roughly 1,000 Handgun Wear and Carry Permit applications.  During that same timeframe this year there have been over 7,000.   This number will likely continue to rise dramatically over the rest of the year, with one of the only holdups being the availability of licensed instructors.  Almost all civilian applicants are still required to possess and HQL and complete 16 hours of firearm training.  Instructors are booked solid, and handguns are in short supply at Maryland gun shops.  Still, the supply will eventually catch up and applications will continue to soar this year before eventually leveling off.

While the good and substantial reason requirement has been eliminated, applicants still face strict background checks.  Anyone with a prior criminal conviction or even a protective order faces the possibility of being denied.  Maryland law prohibits anyone who has been convicted of a crime that carries more than 1 year in jail from obtaining a concealed carry permit.  It does not matter if the applicant never actually served a day in jail, as the maximum penalty is the only relevant factor.  Dozens of non-violent misdemeanors carry more than 1 year in jail in Maryland.  An applicant with no prior criminal record could still be denied a permit if he or she has exhibited a propensity for violence or instability that may reasonably render the person’s possession of a handgun a danger.  This is where protective order or peace order findings could come into play and result in a denial of a conceal carry permit.

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baltimore-1483757__480-300x200A former Baltimore Police Sergeant has been sentenced to almost two years in federal prison for conspiracy to deprive civil rights under 18 U.S. Code § 241.  The sentence was handed down in the Baltimore City federal courthouse this week, more than 6 years after the actual incident.  According to facts presented at plea hearing, the former BPD officer first joined the department in 1992 and became a sergeant in 2011.  During the time when the incident occurred the officer was in charge of a Special Enforcement Section in the department’s Western District.  This area is notorious for a high volume of drug and gang activity, and is home to some of the most dangerous areas of the city.  In March of 2014 while the defendant was working as an officer-in-charge, he received a phone call from another officer who stated that he had just ran over an arrestee in front of a Northeast Baltimore home.  At the time he received the call he was having dinner with a BPD detective.  In a regrettable course of conduct the officer obtained a BB gun from another BPD colleague, drove to the scene of the accident and planted the BB gun in the area where the arrestee had been injured.  The arrestee was actually already in the hospital when the defendant planted the gun.  Additional BPD officers then noticed the BB gun, packaged it as evidence and charged the injured arrestee with possession, use or discharge of a pellet/BB gun.  The arrestee was held without bail for ten months at the detention center before the charges were ultimately dismissed by the State.

While not directly related to the Gun Trace Task Force scandal and subsequent indictments, the defendant’s actions likely came to the attention of law enforcement after the investigation and arrest of numerous GTTF officers.   After the officer who hit the arrestee and six other GTTF officers were arrested the dominoes began to fall, and the former sergeant became nervous about his involvement with the BB gun incident.  He arranged a secret meeting with the same BPD detective he was with when he received the original call about the accident.  The meeting took place at a swimming pool to ensure that neither party was wearing a wire, though in hindsight this only proved the former sergeant’s guilty conscious.  During the meeting the former sergeant attempted to induce the detective to lie to federal investigators by stating that they were both at the scene of the accident for the purpose of scene security. He also told the detective to say that the BB gun was already in the sergeant’s trunk, which was also not true.  It seemed at that point the sergeant already knew he was going down, and had shifted to a mitigation strategy.  In reality this meeting turned out to make matters much worse for the former sergeant, and showed the government that he was not willing to accept responsibility for his actions even after the feds became aware of the BB gun incident.  The defendant likely saved himself a few months in jail by pleading guilty, but based on the evidence there was no way a prison sentence could be avoided.  The case was investigated by the FBI and prosecuted by the same U.S. Attorney who went after the former mayor of Baltimore City, and who is currently prosecuting the Baltimore City State’s Attorney.

The Blog will continue to follow cases involving public corruption and misconduct in office, and we will post articles as news becomes available.  If you have a question about a criminal law or have been charged with a crime, contact Maryland defense lawyer Benjamin Herbst anytime at 410-207-2598.  Benjamin has successfully represented government employees in charges such as misconduct in office and bribery, and has also represented police officers, correctional officers and public figures in high profile assault and theft charges.  Benjamin accepts cases in all Maryland jurisdictions including the federal courts in Baltimore and Greenbelt.  He is licensed to practice law in Florida, and has extensive experience defending those charged in Miami, Broward and Palm Beach Counties with gun and drug offenses as well as fraud, theft, aggravated assault and battery.

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liquor-264470_960_720-300x200Maryland State Police troopers were extremely busy over the July 4th holiday, and recently reported the arrest of nearly 100 drivers over the long weekend.  From Friday the 1st through Monday the 4th 95 drivers were arrested on suspicion of drunk or drugged driving and cited with numerous other traffic violations.  The State Police conducted DUI saturation patrols on Route 50 in Anne Arundel County and the lower Eastern Shore, and also worked patrols on I-695 in Baltimore County, I-70 in Howard County and I-495 in Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties.  Troopers and officers from various departments such as the MDTA Police issued 1,396 citations on interstates 695 and 70, and an additional 852 along Route 50 in Talbot, Queen Anne’s, Anne Arundel and Prince George’s Counties.  Ocean City Police officers and Deputy Sheriffs from Wicomico and Worcester Counties also likely arrested several impaired drivers over the weekend, and drunk driving arrests will continue to add up over the summer.

The sheer number of citations issued over the weekend seems extremely high, but keep in mind that each time a person is arrested for DUI in Maryland they almost always receive at least 3 citations.  Police typically charge DUI and DWI as well as DUI Per Se if the driver took a breath test and blew over .08.  In addition, there is often a traffic infraction that justifies the original stop, such as speeding, failing to stay right of the center and/or failure to obey a traffic control device.  A driver will typically be issued a traffic infraction along with the impaired driving tickets.  Also, it is almost common practice for the Maryland State Police to charge a person with reckless driving and negligent driving when they arrest a person for drunk driving.  If you are charged with DUI in Maryland, it is not beneficial to prepay the traffic citations associated with the case, as they will ultimately be set for trial along with the impaired driving citations.  Paying the citations will result in points being assessed by the MVA, and could also cost hundreds of dollars.  In most cases the non-jailable traffic citations end up being dismissed by the State’s Attorney’s Office pursuant to a plea on one of the more serious citations.  A driver cannot be sentenced on more than one impaired driving ticket, so do not be alarmed when you see two or more similar citations.

The Blog will continue to follow trends regarding DUI arrests in Maryland over the course of the summer, and may post a follow up article as the various police departments release information about stops and arrests.  If you have been charged with a traffic violation, contact Maryland DUI lawyer Benjamin Herbst anytime for a free consultation.  Benjamin has successfully represented hundreds of clients charged with impaired driving, and he has extensive experience representing out-of-state defendants and repeat offenders, as well as federal DUIs and individuals charged with DUI while transporting a minor.  Benjamin has won numerous jury trials and has argued for the dismissal of evidence based on illegal stops.  Anyone who is arrested for impaired driving may also face MVA license suspensions ranging from 6 months to a year, which are separate from what happens in the court case.  Benjamin can help on this end as well and has successfully handled numerous MVA hearings at the Office of Administrative Hearings or OAH in Hunt Valley.  Recently, Benjamin successfully argued that the State Police had not provided sufficient evidence that his client was in control of a motor vehicle when arrested for DUI, which led to the restoration of his client’s full driving privileges.  Contact Benjamin anytime to discuss which defenses may be available in your case at 410-207-2598.  The Herbst Firm represents clients in all Maryland jurisdictions including the federal courts in Greenbelt and Baltimore, and also accepts criminal defense and DUI cases in Florida.

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drugs-908533_960_720-300x200Last week a Berlin man was sentenced to 7 years in prison followed by 3 years of supervised release for possession with intent to distribute cocaine.  The incident in question occurred back in 2018 in Worcester County where the man had been under investigation by the Worcester County Criminal Enforcement team.  The WCCET was also working with various local law enforcement departments including the Ocean Pines and Ocean City police departments.  While conducting surveillance of the defendant’s home, investigators saw another suspect enter and exit the home in a manner consistent with a drug transaction.  A traffic stop was conducted and police discovered cocaine and a glass pipe.  Upon being questioned, the suspected purchaser admitted to having just made a drug transaction with the defendant.  This traffic stop provided law enforcement with the requisite probable cause to obtain a search and seizure warrant on the defendant’s home, which was executed a short time later.  Upon execution of the search warrant, the criminal enforcement team located almost 400 grams of crack cocaine, cutting agents, a scale, three cell phones and $1,472 in cash.  Additional search warrants were obtained for the phones, and upon executing these warrants police discovered text messages that indicated the defendant was allegedly involved in drug trafficking.

The defendant was originally charged in the Snow Hill District Court and released on bail at the end of September, 2018.  His case was then transferred to the Circuit Court for Worcester County upon the filing of felony charges, but just a few months later he was arrested again on a separate federal warrant.  Upon being arrested by the feds the defendant was found in possession of cocaine that he tried to discard as police approached.  The defendant also had possession of a cell phone that was subsequently searched.  Text messages revealed that he was allegedly still actively engaged in drug distribution since his release on bail from the state charges, and the feds were not too pleased with this alleged behavior while out on bail.  The Worcester County Circuit Court case was ultimately dismissed by the State and the Eastern Shore defendant was charged in federal court by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Baltimore.  Now, nearly four years after the original incident, this defendant finally learned his fate in the drug case, and he will likely serve about 6 years behind bars. Of course, this sentence does not include any other open cases the defendant may have in state or federal court, as the U.S. Attorney’s press release did not provide further detail about the Berlin man’s 2019 federal warrant.

The feds do not typically pick up mid-level drug distribution cases that do not involve firearms, and this is especially true for the cases that originate from the Eastern Shore jurisdictions such as Worcester County and the Salisbury area.  There is actually a federal courthouse in Salisbury, but it is not used for felony criminal prosecutions.  When the feds pick up a case from state court, they still must use the local law enforcement officers as witnesses should the case go to trial.  After all, it was not the DEA, ATF or FBI that made the original arrest or executed the search warrant.  It is not ideal to have a dozen or so law enforcement officers on standby to testify when they are working 2 hours away, but this case seemed to strike a chord with the feds to the point that logistics didn’t matter.

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police-224426__180Yesterday the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland announced the guilty plea of a 25-year-old Baltimore man who committed a robbery while on supervised release for another federal crime.  According to facts presented in the guilty plea, back in January of this year the defendant attempted to rob a convenience store in Baltimore City.  The store clerk refused to comply with the defendant’s demand for money, whereupon the defendant displayed a gun from within his waistband.  Off-duty Maryland State Police officers responded to the scene shortly after the store manager called 911, and were joined by Baltimore City police officers minutes later.  The defendant was detained by law enforcement officers, and search incident to arrest revealed a loaded 9mm handgun in the defendant’s waistband.  Security cameras inside the store captured the entire incident on video, making the guilty plea the only reasonable choice for the defendant.

The 25-year-old defendant now faces up to 20 years in federal prison for the federal robbery charge, which is codified as attempting to interfere with interstate commerce by robbery.  Robberies are generally prosecuted in state court, but the federal government can obtain jurisdiction over virtually any commercial robbery committed in the U.S.  This most commonly plays out for bank robbery cases due to the fact that banks are insured by the FDIC, and also gun stores that are licensed to do business by the federal government with a FFL (federal firearms license).  But the Commerce Clause allows the feds to obtain jurisdiction over other business that have a potential customer base from multiple states.  The question is whether it’s possible – not likely that a local convenience store in Baltimore City is frequented by individuals from across the country.

Sentencing for the defendant in the federal robbery charge is set for September of this year, though he also must answer for the violation of supervised release.  Supervised release is the federal term for probation, as there is virtually no difference between the two.  Supervised release simply occurs after a defendant has been released from a term of incarceration.  The federal justice system no longer uses suspended sentences; rather when a defendant violates probation or supervised released, he or she could face up the maximum remaining prison sentence upon a guilty finding of a violation.  For example, a defendant sentenced to 5 years on a robbery charge could face up to 15 years upon if found in violation of supervised release.  In Maryland state court, most judges impose suspended sentences to cap the amount of time that could be imposed in a violation of probation, but some judges simply suspend the maximum and decide an appropriate sentence should the defendant violate.  Any defendant who receives a probation before judgement (PBJ) faces the maximum penalty upon a violation of probation.  There are exceptions including whether the violation is considered non-technical or technical.  In Maryland state court, technical violations have a presumptive non-binding cap of 15 days for a first violation.  Technical violations include positive drug tests, failing to complete treatment or failing to pay restitution.  Non-technical violations include missing more than one probation appointment and/or committing a new offense.  Many defendants believe new arrests are the only non-technical violations but this is not true, as it is just as common for defendants accused of absconding to receive some or all of their back up time.

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technology-2500010__480-300x200Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start to the summer season in Maryland’s only beach town, but these days tourists from the region begin traveling to Ocean City to attend events and enjoy the night life as soon as the weather turns warm.  With graduations completed and school about to let out, it’s safe to say that summer is now in full swing down at the ocean.  This being a criminal law Blog we’re not here to report on the calendar of events in OCMD, but rather the host of new arrests and police activity that comes with the dramatic uptick in visitors.  This week one notable arrest took place after a New York man was pulled over for multiple traffic infractions including aggressive driving, and traveling roughly twice the 35 miles per hour speed limit on the Philadelphia Ave. section of coastal highway.  This area is one of the busiest and most heavily trafficked areas of Ocean City, so needless to say officers rushed to pull the vehicle over as soon as possible.  It seems that the actual traffic stop was effectuated without much drama, but the defendant’s alleged actions that followed were anything but calm and collected.

According to an Ocean City Police Department press release, officers detected an odor of an alcoholic beverage upon approaching the defendant, and shortly thereafter determined that he was driving on a suspended out-of-state driver’s license.  The defendant was then requested to complete standardized field sobriety exercises, and was arrested after becoming uncooperative during the tests.  He was initially arrested for DUI, fleeing and eluding and disorderly conduct, but it turns out these charges only represented a fraction of what was yet to come.  While the defendant was seated in the backseat of the patrol vehicle, he attempted to make a phone call from his smartwatch.  Making unauthorized phone calls while in custody is a huge no-no with police and correctional officers, but the defendant was not happy about giving up his watch to the police.  He allegedly became aggressive and kicked the arresting officer in the face chest and arms, and then kicked another officer who came over to offer assistance.  Ocean City EMS arrived on scene to treat the defendant and the officer, and the defendant was taken to Atlantic General Hospital in Berlin for treatment.  After receiving treatment for what the police deemed were minor injuries, he was taken to the police station and booked for a total of 5 criminal charges including two counts of assault on a law enforcement officer, disorderly conduct and obstructing and hindering.  He also received 16 traffic citations for charges including DUI and driving under the influence of drugs.  The defendant faces hefty fines and potential points for aggressive driving, reckless driving and negligent driving, and according to the charges the defendant’s license was already suspended in the state of Nevada.

The defendant was denied bail by the District Court Commissioner, but granted release on a $25,000 bail the following day when he went before a judge.  He posted bail and now will return to court in July for his trial date.  The Blog will continue to follow this case as it progresses through the court system, and we anticipate whichever judge hears this case will not be pleased with the defendant’s alleged conduct.  Aggressive driving combined with driving under the influence is a dangerous combination, especially in a crowded area such as lower Ocean City. The driving behavior combined with the alleged assault on police officers made a bad situation even worse, though the defendant may be able to challenge many of the charges in court.  He certainly is going to require a strong defense to avoid jail time and permanent convictions on his record.

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police-378255_960_720-300x212The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland recently announced that a 37-year-old man from Waldorf has been indicted on federal charges of false impersonation of an officer and employee of the United States and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.  Federal prosecutors also announced the man’s co-conspirator, a 40-year-old woman from Baltimore, was charged with impersonating and officer and conspiracy to impersonate a federal officer.  The male defendant was held without bail, while the female was released on pre-trial supervision.  According to court documents and statements presented at the initial appearance, the charges stemmed from an incident that occurred back in March at a Prince George’s County restaurant.  The male defendant was working as a security guard for the restaurant with his pet dog when he allegedly attempted to detain two individuals who disputed a bill.  At some point PG County police officers became involved and questioned the defendant regarding the firearm that was on his person.  The defendant justified his possession of said firearm by stating that he was a Deputy United States Marshal, though the officers were not so easily convinced, and arrested him for illegal possession of a regulated firearm and wear, carry or transport of a handgun.  He was originally charged in state court, but the Feds picked up the case due to the fact that he impersonated a federal law enforcement officer.

The plot thickened when the female co-defendant arrived on scene as the male was being taken into custody by Prince George’s County Police.  The female allegedly showed up in full law enforcement garb, complete with tactical pants, handcuffs, a radio, an expandable baton and a handgun.  According to court documents she claimed the dog was her emotional support animal and questioned why the police were arresting a U.S. Marshal.  Her pleas were not met by much sympathy, as the male was taken to jail and the dog was impounded by animal services.  For some reason the female was not arrested by county police officers at the scene, and a short time later she made her way to animal services, once again in full police garb.  The female showed up in a police style vehicle and a black bulletproof vest, and identified herself as a U.S. Marshal to animal services employees.  She apparently presented an identification card with U.S. Marshal’s insignia, which was convincing enough for animal services to release the dog to her custody.

Based on the evidence presented in the initial appearance, it seems federal prosecutors have ample evidence to sustain convictions for false impersonation, which is a felony with a 3-year maximum penalty.  Federal agents also executed a search warrant upon the male defendant’s home, and seized firearms including an AR style rifle and a pump action shotgun.  As a result of his prior criminal record, the male defendant faces up to 10 years in prison for felon in possession of a firearm.  The female does not appear to have been charged with any firearm related offenses, but her alleged possession of a handgun will certainly be taken into consideration at a potential sentencing hearing.  In federal court especially, the judges focus on the statement of facts in its entirety and not simply the charge or charges that are part of the plea.  Judges in Maryland do not take unlawful possession of a firearm lightly regardless of whether the defendant has a prior criminal record.  It is interesting to note that the female could not have faced firearm charges in federal court because she did not possess the gun on federal property.  Federal law only prohibits firearm possession at a federal facility or possession by convicted felons or other disqualified individuals.  Further, the police did not actually arrest the female on scene, so there would have been no way to prove the handgun she possessed was actually a firearm.

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pistol-1350484_1280-300x200Back 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.

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hammer-802296__480-300x225The U.S. Attorney’s Office recently announced that a 55-year-old former MVA employee pleaded guilty to conspiracy to produce and transfer identification documents without lawful authority.  The identification documents at issue were Maryland driver’s licenses, and now the former employee from Anne Arundel County faces up to 15 years in prison for this fraud related felony.  According to facts presented at the plea hearing, the female defendant worked at the Largo MVA branch office in Prince George’s County and conspired with a co-worker and a male co-defendant to issue fraudulent Maryland licenses for a fee.  The co-defendant is a 36-year-old man from Virginia who also entered a guilty plea and is awaiting sentencing.  It appears that the co-defendant was the one who met with individuals seeking fraudulent licenses and accepted cash payments ranging from $800 to $5,000.  He then forwarded the information, including fraudulent documents to support the creation of a Maryland driver’s license, to the two MVA employees.  The defendant and her co-worker then created the fake licenses at the MVA branch and were paid in cash and gifts by the male co-defendant.  Per the plea agreement, the defendant received at least $25,000 in cash and gifts for her role in producing at least 276 fraudulent driver’s licenses.

The defendant’s MVA co-worker was not named in the press release, which means he/she has not been charged or has a sealed criminal complaint pending.  It could also mean the unnamed co-worker has been cooperating with law enforcement.  Two agencies were mentioned by the U.S. Attorney’s Office as heading up the investigation.  The first was the MVA’s Office of Investigations and Internal Affairs, which is not a traditional law enforcement agency.  Rather, the office conducts its own internal investigations about potential frauds regarding licenses, compulsory insurance, vehicle registrations, unlicensed vehicle sales and suspended or revoked driving privileges.  The internal affairs agents then forward their findings to federal, state and local law enforcement agencies for potential prosecution.  In this case the MVA’s internal affairs office forwarded its findings over to the Baltimore office of Homeland Security Investigations.  Homeland Security pays close attention to all state and federally issued ID cards, so it’s no surprise that a fraud of this magnitude was prosecuted in federal court.  Sentencing is currently set for the beginning of August at the federal courthouse in Greenbelt.  In addition to potential prison time the former state employee also must pay $25,000 in criminal restitution.  The Blog will follow this case and the co-defendant’s case and may post a follow-up article in the future.

Benjamin Herbst is a Maryland criminal defense lawyer who specializes in fraud charges such as counterfeiting, identity fraud, credit card crimes and public fraud.  He also has extensive experience representing clients in misdemeanor charges such prescription fraud and possession of fictitious government ID card (fake ID charges).  Fake ID cases are also commonly charged as misrepresentation of age to obtain alcohol, and Benjamin has successfully defended dozens of these cases.  His two main priorities are keeping his clients out of jail and making sure they do not walk out of court with a criminal record.  Benjamin has achieved numerous dismissals in fake ID cases, and then has assisted his clients in filing for immediate expungement of their cases from the public record.  In addition to fraud charges, Benjamin also represents clients charged with theft, unauthorized removal of property, failure to return a rental vehicle, misconduct in office and all other white collar crimes.  Contact Benjamin anytime at 410-207-2598 for a free consultation about your case.  Benjamin has represented clients in all 23 counties in Maryland plus Baltimore City, and has defended cases in the Baltimore and Greenbelt federal courts.

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medpot-300x188The legalization of marijuana in Maryland is now officially in the hands of the voters, as the cannabis reform bill became law at the recent close of the 2022 legislative session in Annapolis.  Rather than endorse the bill with his signature, the governor simply let it take effect without a veto.  The difference is mere from over function, and accumulating the votes is the only major hurdle that remains for state sponsored recreational cannabis.  House Bill 837 lays out the basic rules for implementation of the policy, and if the referendum passes in November, lawmakers will be back at it in 2023 to provide the finishing touches.  The bill is over 50 pages and packed with financial and data collecting components that we will not dissect in this post.  Rather, we’ll focus on the criminal law aspects of the bill that will have a direct impact on law enforcement’s marijuana related contact with citizens.

There are two important dates to mark down when first reading the bill, as none of the provisions will become state law immediately upon passage of the referendum in November.  Assuming the voters do what the polls have predicted and vote yay on the law, the earliest date that marijuana will officially become legal is July 1, 2023.  But, come January of 2023 it will no longer be a crime to possess more than 10 grams of marijuana.  The new threshold amount for criminal charges to kick in will become 2.5 ounces.  Possession of marijuana less than 2.5 ounces will temporarily become a civil offense punishable by a fine of up to $250.  If the amount is less than 1.5 ounces the fine will be capped at $100.  The legislature has also finally considered the various forms of cannabis products in the new law, and that is a good thing for those who are found with products such as concentrates and edibles.  Currently a person in possession of a THC vape cartridge or a container of gummies could face charges for possession not marijuana, which is a more serious offense than possession over 10 grams.  The new law includes all THC related products and breaks them down into a “civil amount” and a “personal use” amount.  A civil amount includes less than 2.5 ounces of flower cannabis, less than 20 grams of concentrates (oil or shatter) and less than 1,250 milligrams of general THC products (edibles).  A personal use amount is less than 1.5 ounces of flower, less than 12 grams of concentrates and less than 750 milligrams of THC edibles.  Personal and civil use will dictate the amount of fines, and the amount a person is able to share with another.  Assuming the referendum passes, the legislature will have to decide whether to use the same personal use or civil use amounts, or different amounts that would be legal for adults to possess.

Another major criminal law component of the bill includes modified penalties for possession with intent to distribute marijuana and manufacturing (growing) cannabis plants.  Come 2023 it will no longer be a felony to sell, grow or possess with intent to distribute pot or THC products.  The potential punishment will be a misdemeanor with a 3-year maximum jail sentence, though trafficking in marijuana will remain a felony.  Manufacturing charges will only apply to adults over the age of 21 growing more than 2 plants, and the 2-plant limit applies to the entire household.  It will not be a crime starting in 2023 to grow up to two cannabis plants in a home, as long as certain safety precautions are met.  Other provisions of the law include mandatory expungement and the release of those serving jail time for marijuana possession cases and the shortening of the expungement process for possession with intent to distribute marijuana.

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