Articles Posted in Gun Crimes

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jaguar-1366978_960_720-300x169Four Baltimore teenagers and a 12-year-old were recently arrested in Ocean City for an armed carjacking that resulted in the victim being taken to the hospital.  In addition to being charged with multiple felonies including carjacking, armed robbery and motor vehicle theft, the 19-year-old defendant was also charged with 13 traffic infractions including attempting to elude a uniformed officer by fleeing on foot and reckless driving.  The criminal and traffic infractions were scheduled for preliminary hearing today in the Ocean City District Court, but the hearing was waived.  The State will now decide which charges to file in the Circuit Court for Worcester County in Snow Hill.  According to reports, police responded to the scene of the robbery where a 73-year-old victim advised he had been approached by three young men in Downtown Ocean City.  One of the men brandished a handgun and pointed it at the victim while demanding items.  The male with the handgun then hit the victim in the back of the head with the gun and drove off with the vehicle.

Officers in the area spotted the stolen vehicle at a convenience store a few blocks away and attempted to initiate a traffic stop, but the driver took off.  Two other stolen vehicles fled the scene as well, and all were tracked by law enforcement.  One of the stolen vehicles attempted to flee town using the Route 50 bridge, but police were able to disable the vehicle using stop sticks in West Ocean City.  This 19-year-old suspect then attempted to run from police but was apprehended by Worcester County Sheriff’s Deputies before being handed back over to the OCPD.  The carjacked vehicle was located a short time later in Wicomico County, and its 15-year-old driver was arrested and charged as a juvenile.  The third stolen vehicle made it the furthest before crashing in Dorchester County and then catching fire.  Three juvenile defendants were arrested after attempting to flee on foot.  One of the juvenile defendants in the third vehicle was in possession of a stolen handgun.  This defendant was 17 and charged as an adult in Dorchester County with similar charges as the 19-year-old defendant, but with additional charges for possession of a firearm by a minor, possession of ammunition and possession of a stolen firearm.  The juvenile court does not have original jurisdiction over violent crimes and gun offense when the defendant is 16 or 17.  Rather, these cases will be sent directly to adult court and would only be transferred back to juvenile court if a judge grants what is known as a reverse waiver.  The two youngest defendants, ages 12 and 14, were charged and released to their parents by police.  Further investigation revealed that numerous vehicles had been broken into that evening in Downtown Ocean City, and a handgun was stolen out of one of them.

The Blog will continue to follow the adult defendant’s case, and may post a follow up article when there is a resolution in the Circuit Court.  All juvenile cases are sealed from public view, so we will not be able to follow up on the three youngest defendants.  Although the 17-year-old defendant was charged as an adult, his case is also shielded from public view due to the fact that he is a juvenile.  Shielding adult cases is a new policy in Maryland, which assures that the privacy of juvenile defendants is protected.  This is especially important due to the high percentage of cases that are waived back down to juvenile court, where a defendant or respondent receives the benefit of privacy from the beginning.  If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime, contact Maryland juvenile criminal defense lawyer Benjamin Herbst anytime for a free consultation.  Benjamin has successfully defended dozens of juveniles charged with some of the most serious offenses including carjacking, armed robbery, motor vehicle theft, and firearm possession.  He specializes in gun crimes in Maryland Eastern Shore locations such as Worcester County, Wicomico County and Dorchester County, and also handles drug and DUI charges in Ocean City.  Call Benjamin anytime at 410-207-2598 for a free consultation about your case.

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pistol-1350484_1280-300x200Anne Arundel County Police recently arrested two teenagers ages 14 and 16 for attempting to steal firearms from a Glen Burnie gun store.  Just before 4 a.m. in the morning police observed a white Ford van that crashed into the gun shop, and soon thereafter located two juvenile suspects in the process of stealing firearms from the store’s gun cases.  The juveniles were arrested without further incident and charged with multiple criminal offenses, and could be facing more charges according to media reports.  Police learned that the van in question was also involved in an attempted burglary in Pasadena earlier in the night.  Two other gun stores, including one in Anne Arundel County and one in Montgomery County, were also recently burglarized over the last couple of weeks and suspects had not been apprehended and charged at the time of this latest incident.  The Montgomery County burglary occurred on the night of Thanksgiving, just after midnight.  According to police this incident involved five or six individuals who rammed a stolen black sedan into the front of the gun shop, and then fled the scene with multiple firearms.  The same store was unsuccessfully targeted just one week prior.

The ATF is investigating all of these burglaries to see if there is any connection, and federal charges would likely follow if any of the thieves turn out to be adults.  Juveniles can be prosecuted at the federal level, but state prosecutions are far more common even in crimes that could be charged federally.  Theft of a gun from the premises of a licensed firearms dealer is punishable under 18 U.S.C. section 842(h), and a violation of this law carries up to 10 years in prison.  The logic behind making this a federal crime is that all firearms dealers must have a FFL or Federal Firearms License that is issued by the ATF.  The feds must approve anyone who chooses to sell, import or manufacture guns, so stealing from one of these licensees was established as a federal crime.  This is akin to bank robbery being a federal crime due to almost all banks being insured by the FDIC.

The exact charges in the Anne Arundel County case have not been announced publicly, as all juvenile cases and adult charges involving juvenile defendants are sealed from public view and inspection.  This was not always the case, as until recently juveniles that were charged as adults had their cases entered on Maryland judiciary case search, which is easily accessible to the public.  This has been a source of contention for the criminal defense community, as many of these charges ended up being dismissed or transferred to juvenile court after the damage of public knowledge was already done.  Thankfully, changes occurred that now protect juvenile defendants.  In addition, recent case law from the Maryland’s highest court has moved the needle in favor of transfer if there is any possibility of the juvenile benefiting from programs or services provided by DJS.

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Gun-evidence-box-300x225One Baltimore man was sentenced and another recently pleaded guilty to the federal charge of illegal possession of a firearm in a school zone.  Both cases were prosecuted at the Baltimore City federal courthouse, and both defendants were originally chaeged in state court before the feds took over.  The first defendant, a 22-year-old man, was arrested back in March of 2021 for possession with intent to distribute fentanyl and firearm charges.  Law enforcement including the DEA recovered multiple firearms and upwards of 6 kilograms of fentanyl from a Pikesville stash house that was tied to the defendant.  The defendant’s case was transferred from the District Court to the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, but then was dismissed after the feds decided to prosecute.  There is rarely one specific reason why the feds choose to pick up a state case, but when a defendant is arrested in the city with a combination of fentanyl and firearms its certainly going to attract their attention.  Federal prosecutors have been focusing on fentanyl cases in the Baltimore and D.C. metro areas over the last couple of years, and had already been heavily involved in prosecuting illegal firearm possession.  Any time both are present there is a good chance the case will be picked up by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.  In this particular case the young man received a 9-year federal prison sentence for illegal possession of a firearm in a school zone and possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance, which means he will likely serve close to 8 years behind bars. There is no parole in the federal criminal justice system, so early release can only be granted based on the defendant’s conduct and the availability of re-entry programs.

Shortly after the first defendant was sentenced, another Baltimore man pleaded guilty to the sole charge of illegal possession of a firearm in a school zone.  This defendant, a 31-year-old man, was apparently riding around the city on his bicycle with a construction hat, orange safety vest and a loaded .40 caliber handgun sticking out of his waistband.  A call for a potentially armed man was made to Baltimore Police, who were able to locate the suspect on city watch CCTV cameras a short time later.  Officers then stopped the suspect for riding his bicycle on the sidewalk, which is violates a city ordinance.  The man then allegedly tried to flee but was found a short time later knocking on the door of a random house.  Upon detaining the suspect, police located the .40 handgun, which had an obliterated serial number and 15 rounds of ammunition.  The suspect then uttered several spontaneous statements claiming ownership of the firearm.  This case could easily have been prosecuted by the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office, but the feds likely picked up the case due to the defendant’s proximity to a school upon his arrest.  The Gun Fee School Zones Act of 1990 made it a federal crime to possess a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school, and despite being modified several times over the last few decades, the law is still very much intact.  Violation of this provision is a felony punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison, which is significantly harsher than the 3-year penalty for wear, transport or carry a firearm under Maryland law.  The defendant in this case negotiated a plea deal to serve two years in prison, so he is likely not a convicted felon or otherwise prohibited from possessing a firearm.

The Blog will continue to follow all noteworthy drug and gun cases in Maryland, and will post on federal prosecution of traditional state charges.  If you or a loved one is facing adult or juvenile criminal charges contact Maryland gun lawyer Benjamin Herbst anytime for a free consultation at 410-207-2598.  Benjamin specializes in charges involving possession with intent to distribute CDS such as heroin, fentanyl, cocaine and marijuana.  He also has extensive experience defending clients facing probation violations and gun charges such as possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and possession of a firearm in a federal facility.  Contact Benjamin today to learn what defenses may be available in your state or federal case.  Benjamin is also licensed to practice in Florida, where he has successfully defended clients in numerous offenses such as drug trafficking, carrying a concealed firearm and aggravated assault.

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handcuffs-2102488__480-300x169In October of 1971 an off-duty Montgomery County Police Captain was shot while working as a security guard.  Law enforcement arrived at the scene shortly after the shooting, but the officer succumbed to his injuries three days after being shot.  Numerous suspects were interviewed, but no arrests were made and the case had remained cold for decades.  Last October marked the 50th anniversary of the homicide, and police detectives decided to take a fresh look at the case in hopes that a new set of eyes could finally bring justice to the family of the fallen officer.  After reviewing the voluminous files and hours of recordings, the detectives honed in on a then 19-year-old witness who had given a statement to police shortly after the shooting, but had never been labeled as a suspect.  A recording of this witness’ interview with police was sent to the FBI where technicians were able to convert the old tape into a digital format.  The digital recording was clear enough for detectives to determine that the witness knew more about the incident than was possible- unless he was involved in the shooting.  This witness also had a criminal record, lived near the scene of the crime and subsequently changed his name.  Detectives then spent weeks trying to track the witness down, and finally located him living and allegedly quiet life in Upstate New York.

Montgomery County homicide detectives traveled to New York to attempt to interview the witness, and left with a confession to the 51-year-old shooting.  The witness turned defendant, who is now 70 years old, apparently admitted to detectives that he was committing a burglary in the area, when the off-duty police captain intervened as he was attempting to flee in a getaway vehicle.  The defendant claimed the shooting was accidental, but nonetheless detectives immediately applied for an arrest warrant for first-degree murder.  An arrest warrant was issued that same day, and the defendant was taken into custody in New York.  He was officially served with the warrant upon arrival at the Montgomery County Detention Center one week later.  He was denied bail by a District Court Commissioner at his initial appearance, and again by a District Court Judge at his bail review.  A preliminary hearing is set for this Friday, but the defendant will almost certainly be charged in the Circuit Court.

This case brings up a host of interesting legal issues.  One involves the statute of limitations, which under Maryland law varies greatly depending on the crime.  Almost all felonies including murder, first-degree assault and robbery have no statute of limitations, and the state could prosecute at any time.  Many misdemeanors have a 1-year statute of limitations, but there is no limit if the crime is punishable by a prison sentence.  In Maryland a prison sentence is a year and a day or more, so any crime with a maximum penalty of 18 months or higher can be charged at any time.  This means common misdemeanor crimes such as second-degree assault and fourth degree burglary have no statute of limitations in Maryland.  There are several crimes that carry two and three-year limitations such as manslaughter by vehicle, tax offenses, election law violations and Medicaid fraud that carry a 3-year limit.  Crimes charged under the Natural Resources Article and fraudulent driver’s license crimes carry a 2-year limitation.

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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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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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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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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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1249005_glock_29_replica_1-1-300x168There was significant movement last week in highly publicized state measures to curb the circulation of unserialized firearms commonly known as ghost guns.  Both the House and Senate preliminarily approved legislation that would eventually ban the sale and ownership of the untraceable firearms in Maryland.  These untraceable guns have been a major point of contention for police and law makers alike, and have undoubtedly contributed to an increased number of gun crimes over the past couple of years.  The gun components are often made of polymer or other materials that are easy to fashion yet strong enough to withstand the explosion of a cartridge being fired, and are relatively cheap.  Basically, anyone with internet access and a Venmo account could order the components to make a working firearm in a matter of hours.  Therefore, it’s no surprise that a state like Maryland that already has some of the toughest gun laws in the country is making serious moves to eliminate untraceable firearms.

Ghost guns are generally defined as firearms that lack an identifiable serial number and are manufactured privately or in the home.  The parts are typically purchased in kits or created at home using 3D printers, thought the kits are more common these days.  Federal law does not prohibit private individuals from manufacturing their own firearms for personal use, but does place firm restrictions on the manufacture of firearms for sale or distribution.  Gun parts manufacturers that sell these kits are able to skirt federal restrictions by only selling parts that are considered unfinished.  The difference between a finished and unfinished gun receiver (the part that joins the firing components) is a fine line in which the manufacturers are fully versed.  They intentionally sell receivers that are less than 80% finished and require some basic machining, for which they provide the drill bits and instructions.  Obtaining ammunition is still a task that presents a challenge for those prohibited from possessing firearms, but ammo is cheap and small, and thus easy to purchase or obtain unofficially.

After a bit of back and forth over the last couple of months it seems the General Assembly has settled on a timeframe for implementing the ghost gun ban, and also prospective punishments for those who violate.  First, the prohibition will not become law until March 1, 2023 at the earliest.  Second, the punishments for violating the ghost gun laws have been slightly reduced to a maximum of two years in jail for possession and a maximum five years in jail for sale or distribution.  Both of these offenses would be misdemeanors, thought a defendant may still be charged with additional applicable felonies such as possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and possession of a firearm in a drug trafficking crime.  There may also be a provision in the law that requires the State to prove an element of knowledge.  In other words, it may be a defense if the person charged did not reasonably know the firearm was a ghost gun.  Under potential ghost gun laws, the State Police would be tasked with establishing databases for ghost guns and tracking serial numbers to make sure there are no duplicates.
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