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Articles Posted in Drug Arrests

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hammer-802296__480-300x225Can the State go to trial without the defendant being present in court?  Last month a Washington County man was convicted of possession with intent to distribute cocaine, and driving under the influence after a traffic stop in the early morning hours of April 8, 2021.  Normally this type of case would not be especially newsworthy for the Blog but for one glaring detail; the defendant was tried and convicted by a jury despite not being present in court.  In legal terms the defendant was tried in absentia, simply meaning he was absent from court but the judge decided to move forward with the case anyway.  The stop and the trial occurred in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, which is just north of the man’s hometown of Hagerstown on Interstate 81.  According to a press release by the District Attorney’s Office the man was traveling southbound toward Maryland on I81 and nearly collided with a tractor trailer.  After making contact with the Hagerstown man, Troopers noticed marijuana in plain view in the vehicle and observed signs of impairment.  The defendant then allegedly admitted to drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana before driving.  Upon being arrested for DUI Troopers recovered a plastic bag with a white powdery substance that the defendant was trying to conceal in the front bumper of the vehicle.  Chemical analysis revealed that the substance was in fact cocaine, weighing nearly 75 grams.  The amount of cocaine apparently was enough for the jury to conclude that it was not for personal use, but rather that he possessed the drug with intent to distribute.  Sentencing is set for October 4 of this year, and it remains to be seen whether the defendant will show.

Although the defendant was arrested and prosecuted in Pennsylvania, the law regarding trials being held in absentia appear to be similar to the Maryland law.  We do not usually post about cases in other states, but the defendant does hail from Hagerstown and the trial brings up an interesting and rare issue.  Pursuant to Maryland Rule 4-231 a defendant in a criminal proceeding is entitled to be physically present in person at every stage of the case and trial.  The most common exceptions are during arguments over the law, or a when nolle prosequi or STET is entered.  The courts have been conducting remote hearings for more than two years, but at most hearings the judge reminds the defendant that he or she has a right to be physically present.  This is especially true for evidentiary hearings and plea hearings.  There is one more exception to this rule, and it is triggered when the defendant waives his or her appearance by being voluntarily absent from court after the proceeding has commenced or when the defendant engages in conduct that justifies exclusion from the court.  A defendant may also personally or through counsel waive the right to be present.  We have seen cases where defendants have been disruptive in court and then removed from the courtroom in the middle of a trial.  One particular case occurred in Florida, and the trial continued without the defendant even after the jury witnessed the outburst.  This is obviously a rare situation that all parties attempt to avoid, but it does happen.

The lawyers for this defendant in this Pennsylvania case likely attempted to postpone the trial or even withdraw from the case, but the State and the judge seemed to agree that moving the case along was in the best interest of justice.  It is not clear whether the defendant was absent for the entire case or just for the trial, but the language of the Maryland rule does appear to create somewhat of a murky issue by stating “after the proceeding has commenced”.  An argument could be made that the proceeding means the actual jury trial, and therefore a defendant’s presence cannot be waived by failing to appear at trial.  The Blog will continue to follow this case to see whether the defendant shows, and whether the sentence takes into account the defendant’s failure to appear.  It would likely be advisable for the defendant to show up for sentencing, as unlike during trial, a judge does have the ability to factor in failing to appear at sentencing.

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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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pills_money-300x199Back in February of 2020 a 33-year-old man from Waldorf was found guilty of several drug and firearms offenses in the Greenbelt federal courthouse.  It took more than two years for the case to go to sentencing, and the wait did not turn out to be in the defendant’s favor, as he was sentenced to 40 years of incarceration.  The lengthy sentence was handed down yesterday for charges including distribution of fentanyl resulting in death, conspiracy, possession with intent to distribute controlled substances, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime and possession of firearm by a convicted felon.  The charges stemmed from incidents that occurred back in 2017, which included two drug deals that resulted in the overdose deaths.  The government was able to establish sufficient evidence to prove the charges through text messages, phone records, surveillance video and live testimony from multiple witnesses who purchased narcotics from the defendant.  A few months after the two overdose deaths law enforcement was able to secure a search warrant for the defendant’s Waldorf apartment.  The defendant was arrested on the day of the search and seizure in April of 2018, and has been held in custody without bail since that time.

Upon execution of the search warrant law enforcement recovered five firearms including a loaded .45 caliber handgun that was found in a backpack next to 121 individually packaged baggies of fentanyl.  These facts supported the jury’s guilty verdict for the charge of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, which is a commonly charged offense in Maryland state courts as well as federal courts.  The government was also able to establish that the defendant had prior felony convictions that prohibited him from possessing firearms.  Police also seized over 200 grams of heroin/fentanyl mix, 40 grams of cocaine, 12 cell phones, $22,000 in cash, digital scales, money counters and jewelry including a Rolex and diamonds.  All of these factors tended in prove that the defendant was involved in a large-scale narcotics distribution operation in Southern Maryland, but the 40-year sentence was undoubtedly due to the two overdose deaths that the jury felt were caused by the defendant.

A few months after the defendant’s trial his co-defendant from St. Mary’s County was sentenced to 12.5 years in federal prison for distribution of fentanyl.  As part of the plea the co-defendant admitted his distribution led to the overdose deaths of same two individuals, though he did not actually plead guilty to the offense of distribution resulting in death.  It is likely that the co-defendant cooperated with law enforcement in exchange for his relatively lenient sentence, though the U.S. Attorney’s Office press release did not directly say that he was called as a witness during the main defendant’s trial.

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money-943782_960_720-300x225The U.S. Attorney’s office recently announced that a 31-year-old Montgomery County man has been arrested and charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm, distribution of controlled substances and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.  A criminal complaint was filed against the defendant on March 4, 2022 and he was arrested on March 7.  The Germantown man was ordered to be held without bail at his detention hearing in the Greenbelt federal courthouse two days after his arrest.  According to the sworn affidavit in support of the criminal complaint, the defendant was identified as a suspected narcotics and firearms dealer.  In February of this year the defendant sold guns and drugs to an undercover law enforcement officer three times in Montgomery County.  The sales allegedly included more than 45 grams of crack cocaine, gel caps containing heroin and fentanyl and numerous firearms including multiple ghost guns.  The term ghost gun is used to describe any privately made firearm that does not have a serial number and cannot be individually identified or traced.  These weapons have become a point of focus for law enforcement over the last few years, and will continue to be a major issue for state and federal legislators.

In addition to the three alleged sales in February, the defendant and the undercover law enforcement officer also met a fourth time.  During this meeting the defendant allegedly sold the cop three fully assembled Glock style handguns for a total of $3,000.  The sale was observed by additional law enforcement surveillance units, and memorialized by several calls and text messages.  In addition to the four meetings, the defendant also apparently admitted to the undercover officer that he could not legally purchase a firearm due to a previous felony conviction.  The defendant faces up to 10 years in prison for felon in possession of a firearm and up to 20 years for distribution of controlled substances.  He also faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years for possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.  This federal offense is almost identical to the Maryland state law that prohibits the possession of a firearm in a drug trafficking crime.  The government is not required to prove that the firearm was actually used or brandished during the drug trafficking crime.  Rather, all that is required is for the government to prove a nexus or connection between the gun and the drugs.  Courts have consistently held that drug dealers possess firearms to protect themselves against theft and robbery, which makes it difficult for the defense to argue that the guns and drugs are not related.  A drug trafficking crime includes all felony drug charges such as possession with intent to distribute, manufacturing and distribution. Despite the use of the term trafficking, there is no requirement that the government prove the defendant was a volume dealer or drug kingpin for this law to apply.

The Blog will continue to follow this case and many other federal gun and drug prosecutions.  We may post a follow up article on this case depending on the outcome so stay tuned.  If you or a loved one has been charged or is being investigated by the ATF, FBI, DEA or any other federal or state law enforcement agency contact Benjamin Herbst anytime for a free consultation.  Benjamin is a Maryland criminal defense lawyer who specializes in drug crimes and weapons charges, and is available 7 days a week to explain what defenses may be available in your case.  He handles charges including wear transport or carry of a handgun and illegal possession of a regulated firearm, and practices in all state and federal courts in Maryland.  Benjamin can be reached at 410-207-2598 and is also licensed to practice law in the state of Florida.

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pills-384846_1280-300x200This week the Maryland State Police arrested two motorists on drug charges after conducting a traffic stop shortly after midnight on Interstate 97.  The stop occurred near the Benfield Boulevard exit in Millersville, which is right by the Anne Arundel County Police headquarters and criminal investigations buildings.  Upon stopping the vehicle for an alleged traffic violation, the trooper discovered that the 32-year-old female occupant from Dundalk in Baltimore County had four outstanding arrest warrants for drug charges.  A search of the vehicle allegedly produced 11 grams of heroin, 42 grams of crack cocaine, 48 Xanax pills, drug paraphernalia and cash.  Both suspects were then arrested on multiple drug charges and booked into the Anne Arundel County detention center.  MSP did not divulge exactly how the officer obtained probable cause to search the vehicle, but based on the circumstances the most likely sources of PC to search were the outstanding warrants for the female suspect’s arrest.  Anyone with an outstanding warrant can be arrested, and then searched incident to that arrest.  In traffic stops the vehicle can also be searched and inventoried pursuant to the arrest.

The 39-year-old male defendant from Pennsylvania was charged with two counts each of misdemeanor drug possession and felony CDS possession with intent to distribute, as well as an additional drug paraphernalia charge.  He was seen by the commissioner and then released on a $15,000 bail.  This defendant appears to have lengthy criminal history, which may create a difficult situation for his defense once this case goes to court.  Judiciary casesearch shows at least three prior convictions for drug felonies in Baltimore County.  When you add in the prior violation of probation the defendant’s guidelines for a PWID narcotic charge would be at least 4-8 years, and that’s factoring in a potential reduction due to the age of the prior cases.  His guidelines could end up being as high as 7-14 years, which is a big number even at the bottom.  The guideline ranges for street level narcotics distribution charges are excessive to say the least, especially when compared to violent offenses such as robbery and assault, but that’s a post for another day.

The female defendant did not fare as well, and is still being held in the detention center.  She was charged with the same counts as her co-defendant plus an additional charge for prescription fraud under Maryland law 5-701, which appears to be related to allegedly removing or altering the label on the bottle of Xanax.  On top of that, she apparently gave either a fake name or fake ID to the trooper in an attempt to avoid being arrested on the warrants, and was subsequently charged with fraudulent personal identification to avoid prosecution under Maryland law 8-301.  Both of these fraud related charges are misdemeanors, but the latter will certainly raise concerns for any judge at bail review.  Possessing fake identification and/or using fake names is an act the state always argues makes the defendant a flight risk.  The defendant was in fact held without bail at her bail review in the Annapolis District Court just this morning.  She must now wait for her attorneys to file a motion to reconsider her bail status at some point in the future, or wait for her case to be transferred to the circuit court where she would be entitled to an additional bail review.

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pills_money-300x199This week in the Greenbelt federal courthouse a 35-year-old man from Saint Mary’s County pleaded guilty to distribution of fentanyl and being a felon in possession of a firearm.  According to facts presented by the government at plea agreement, three individuals traveled from Calvert County to St. Mary’s County in order to purchase narcotics from the defendant on March 1, 2021.  The three individuals then returned to Calvert County, where two of them ingested the narcotics they had just purchased.  One of the drug users became unresponsive after ingesting the narcotics, and the other two administered Narcan and called 911 after also performing CPR.  First responders were unable to revive the victim, who was pronounced dead on the scene.  Police came to investigate and were unable to recover the rest of the narcotics after they were discarded in the woods by the remaining two individuals.  The medical examiner ultimately concluded the death was caused by fentanyl and alcohol intoxication.

An investigation, which likely included statements made by the two remaining individuals and cell phone data, led police to the defendant in St. Mary’s County.  A search warrant was executed on his Lexington Park address 11 days after the drug deal and subsequent deadly overdose.  Law enforcement recovered a host of contraband including 30 plus grams of a mixture containing fentanyl, heroin and acetaminophen.  They also recovered plastic baggies, cutting agents and a scale that law enforcement would have testified was evidence of drug distribution.  In addition to the drugs and paraphernalia, police also seized a Polymer 9mm “ghost gun” handgun with a 30-round extended magazine loaded with 21 rounds.  Additional magazines and ammunition were seized as well as over $7,000 in cash. The drugs were tested at the crime lab and the gun was test fired by the ATF, and both yielded positive results.  The defendant is a convicted felon after being found guilty of possession with intent to distribute narcotics back in 2020.  He was on probation for that offense and just received a violation of probation sentence of 3.5 years.

Making matters worse for all involved, the man committed these acts while on pre-trial release for another offense out of St. Mary’s County.  It looks like that offense was for accessory after the fact, which carries a punishment that depends on the primary charge but is capped at 5 years.  The exception being that accessory after the fact to first degree murder carries a 10-year maximum penalty.  The defendant was actually wearing his pre-trial release GPS ankle monitor when police showed up to execute the search warrant, which is clearly not a good look for our continued fight to have defendants released pending trial in favor of being held without bail.

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thirteen-bags-of-marijuana-found-in-taxi-cabThis past week two Maryland men were arrested in Indiana for dealing in marijuana after his van was pulled over on Interstate 70 for following another vehicle too closely.  Local sheriff’s deputies allegedly observed several criminal indicators after pulling the vehicle over, which included the odor of raw marijuana and the presence of plant like material on the pants of the driver.  A search of the van took place shortly after the traffic stop, and police discovered 16 cardboard boxes that contained numerous vacuum sealed plastic bags of pot.  Back at the police station deputies weighed the bags and eventually tallied 400 pounds of cannabis.  This large roadside bust resulted in charges for the driver and passenger, who were booked into the county jail and later bonded out.  Both defendants now face potential jail time for charges when they return to court.

The Blog does not typically post about cases that involve drug busts in other states, but since the defendants hail from Maryland we thought it would be an appropriate way to write marijuana related automobile searches, which have been receiving a great deal of attention as of late.  Despite nationwide efforts to legalize marijuana it is still an illegal substance in the majority of states, and remains a controlled substance under federal law.  Therefore, police officers are still actively searching for suspected marijuana traffickers, and will be especially attracted to vehicles with out of state license plates traveling on interstates around the country.  An out-of-state cargo van traveling with two adult male occupants couldn’t be more suspicious to highway patrol officers, so it’s no surprise this vehicle was pulled over.  While it almost certainly will not appear in any official report, this particular vehicle likely caught the eye of the deputy sheriff long before it was involved in the alleged traffic infraction.  Law enforcement officers are legally able to make pretextual traffic stops, which means they can pull a vehicle over for a minor traffic stop with the full intention of conducting a criminal investigation.  It is for this reason that a large percentage of drug busts occur on interstate highways and other major thoroughfares.

In addition to pretextual stops, law enforcement officers in most states are able to search a vehicle upon observing signs indicating the presence of marijuana.  This is especially true in Maryland, where the highest court has unequivocally held that the odor of marijuana justifies the search of a vehicle.  Almost all law enforcement officers, and especially those from the Maryland State Police and the Maryland Transportation Authority police have special training in drug interdiction, which is the process of preventing drugs from reaching their intended destination.  Much of this training includes identifying vehicles that could be transporting marijuana, heroin and other illegal controlled substances.  On top of the list are vehicles traveling with out-of-state license plates or vehicles that are registered to rental companies.  Police officers on Interstate 95 and Interstate 70 are rarely just looking to nail speeders, but rather are searching for their next drug bust.  In this case, the Maryland men seemed destined for law enforcement attention and now they have criminal cases pending in a state with surprisingly lenient marijuana distribution laws.  Unlike in Maryland, the equivalent to possession with intent to distribute cannabis is actually a misdemeanor in Indiana for all first time offenders.  One of the men recently was charged with a drug offense in Baltimore County, but his case did not result in a conviction.  it is unclear whether either defendant has priors in others states.  The Blog will follow this case and others like it, and may post a follow up article in the near future.

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coke4-300x250This week two Baltimore men received federal prison sentences for narcotics distribution, further serving as reminders that the feds are not shy about prosecuting drug cases in Baltimore City.  Neither case seemed especially complex, and both defendants appeared to keep their illegal operations local, but nonetheless the cases ended up in federal court.  Unlike many crimes, drug offenses do not need to be committed on federal property or across state lines in order to be prosecuted in federal court.  The United States Code has strict controlled substance laws, and the feds can choose to prosecute anyone involved with suspected drug dealing.  Normally in Maryland, street level cases are prosecuted in state court by the local State’s Attorney’s Office, but it’s quite a different story in Baltimore City.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecutes a large number of drug and gun cases that would normally be filed in state court, and the two from this week are a classic example.  On July 13, a 41-year-old man from Baltimore was sentenced to 5 years in federal prison for conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute crack cocaine.  This particular defendant was ultimately jammed up for selling cocaine to multiple confidential informants in a particular area of East Baltimore.  The defendant’s DTO or drug trafficking organization was not particularly large but nonetheless caught the attention of the ATF, and ultimately wound up in federal court.  As part of the plea the defendant admitted to conspiracy to distribute more than 28 grams of cocaine, and also admitted to possessing firearms.

Just one day after the sentence was handed down for the 41-year-old defendant, another Baltimore man learned he would be spending the next 4 years in federal prison for conspiracy to distribute heroin, fentanyl and cocaine.  This particular defendant was being investigated by a joint task force led by the DEA, who joined with Baltimore City Police in gathering evidence to support the defendant’s involvement with a street level drug trafficking organization.  Law enforcement officers were ultimately able to secure a search warrant for the defendant’s residence, and recovered 147 grams of a heroin fentanyl mixture, cutting agents and a press containing cocaine.  According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, based on the evidence obtained it was reasonable to conclude that the defendant and his co-conspirators distributed more than to distribute more than 3.5 kilograms of cocaine, as well as heroin and fentanyl.  The 5-year sentence may seem low compared to state sentences for narcotics distribution, but keep in mind that there is no parole in the federal justice system.  Defendants typically serve more than 75 percent of their actual sentences compared to state defendants who are eligible for parole on non-violent offenses after serving 25 percent of their time.  There were a total of 25 defendants indicted in this particular investigation, and 22 have pleaded guilty or been found guilty at trial.  In March of this year the defendant’s alleged source of supply was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his role in the conspiracy.

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heroinbust-300x198This week law enforcement officers from numerous agencies executed eight search warrants in Frederick County and Washington County, which yielded various drugs, cash and multiple firearms.  The warrants were executed at about 4 a.m., which means they were likely of the ‘no knock’ variety that in theory prevents the destruction of evidence and the possibility of suspects preparing for a confrontation with police.  Only two individuals were arrested as a direct result of the warrants, but more arrests will likely follow as police comb through the seized evidence.  A 48-year old man and a 40-year old woman from Washington County are both being held without bail on charges of possession with intent to distribute narcotics and possession with intent to distribute PCP.  The man is also charged with illegal possession of a firearm under Maryland statute 5-622.  This offense is a separate felony that carries a five-year maximum penalty, but unlike Maryland statute 5-621, possession of a firearm in a drug trafficking crime, it does not require a mandatory minimum sentence upon conviction.  The defendant may face additional charges as the case progresses to circuit court, which could include those that carry mandatory sentences.

The law enforcement agencies involved in the execution of the search warrants included the Maryland State Police, the Frederick and Washington County Sheriff’s Offices, the Frederick Police and the Montgomery County Police.  In total, law enforcement seized over $23,000 in cash, over 2.5 pounds of cocaine, four handguns and large amounts of crack, PCP and methadone.  The amount of cocaine seized would clearly be enough to trigger drug trafficking charges, but there is no indication that the cocaine could all be attributed to one individual suspect.  Maryland statute 5-612 targets volume dealers, and provides a 5-year mandatory sentence for anyone convicted of possessing more than 448 grams of cocaine or crack, which is roughly equivalent to one pound.  The threshold is much lower for heroin (28 grams) and even lower for fentanyl (5 grams).  Marijuana, PCP and LSD are also included in the statute, which also carries a potential $100,000 fine upon conviction.

Going back to this specific case, the execution of 8 simultaneous search warrants indicates that this investigation was ongoing for months and likely included hours of surveillance and possibly confidential informants conducting numerous controlled buys.  A controlled buy is a common law enforcement tactic where police observe an informant engage in a drug transaction for the purpose of gathering evidence to use to obtain a warrant.  This is in contrast to a buy-bust, where police immediately move in to make an arrest after a drug deal has concluded.  Buy-busts are rare due to the obvious consequences of burning the CI and also creating a potentially dangerous and unpredictable situation.
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gelcap-300x169A 41-year old Baltimore man recently pled guilty to participating in a drug distribution conspiracy, and he now faces more than a decade in federal prison for his actions.  Based on a recent press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office the defendant is looking at 12.5 years after the government and the defense agreed that a 150-month sentence would be appropriate.  The presiding judge in the Baltimore City federal courthouse will have final say over the sentence, but typically when both sides are in agreement the judge will go along as well.  It is unclear whether the parties entered into a binding agreement under Rule 11(c), but either way the judge would maintain discretion to approve or reject the plea based upon a final calculation of the sentencing guidelines and a review of the presentence report.

According to facts laid out in the plea agreement the defendant participated in a drug trafficking organization or DTO from at least September of 2018 until June of 2019 in Baltimore City.  The defendant also admitted to maintaining a stash house in Baltimore where heroin and crack cocaine were processed and stored.  Law enforcement agencies including the ATF, FBI and the Baltimore Police all participated in the investigation, which ultimately yielded a search warrant for the stash house.  The Anne Arundel County Police also participated to some degree in the case due to the cross proximity of the stash house to Anne Arundel County. Police seized over 200 grams of crack cocaine from the house, but it does not appear that any money or firearms were seized.  It is also not clear whether there were other individuals that were charged along with this defendant, but there had to have been other suspects in order for the government to establish sufficient evidence of a conspiracy.  Conspiracy charges are common in federal court, as it is often easier for the government to prove that a defendant planned and prepared to commit an illegal act as opposed to catching him or her in the act.  Under Maryland state law conspiracy is not a separate enumerated crime, but rather a common law misdemeanor that may be charged in almost any criminal case.

It certainly appears that an agreed upon sentence of 12.5 years for a non-violent drug offense involving far less than 1 kilogram of cocaine and no firearms or weapons would be excessive.  The agreement is a little easier to comprehend when factoring in the defendant’s prior record though.  According to Maryland casesearch, the defendant was convicted of first-degree murder back in 1999 and then narcotics distribution and possession of a firearm in a drug trafficking crime in 2011.  He received 12 years in each of these cases.  The first-degree murder case was resolved by a plea agreement to 12 years in prison, though he also received 12 years for handgun use in a crime in the same case.  These counts could have been run consecutive for a total of 24 years though it is not completely clear.  Either way the defendant has spent most of his adult life in prison, and now will spend another decade behind bars.  Regardless of his prior record, a 12 plus year sentence for mid-level drug trafficking seems unjust, and we can only hope that lawmakers continue to engage in criminal justice reform that reduces a defendant’s exposure in non-violent cases.

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