The 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.
A 26-year-old Washington D.C. man has been charged with attempted 2nd degree murder and related firearms offenses after shooting at police officers during a foot chase. The incident began at an Olney indoor swimming center, when employees called the police to report a suspicious individual on the property. The Maryland National Capital Park Police responded to the scene to investigate, but the suspect had already left the area. Police officers eventually caught up to the suspect’s vehicle, but he fled when police attempted to initiate a traffic stop. Park Police officers declined to initiate a high-speed chase, but continued to canvass the area to locate the suspect’s vehicle. A short time later the suspect’s vehicle was in fact located, though the suspect had fled on foot after his car was involved in an accident. Police found the suspect in a residential neighborhood within minutes, but before they were able to place him into custody, he allegedly fired one shot at officers in pursuit. Thankfully, the bullet struck an empty parked car and nobody was injured. The suspect was then taken into custody and then booked into the Montgomery County Detention Center in Rockville. He was charged with attempted 2nd degree murder, first-degree assault, reckless endangerment, and use of a firearm in a crime of violence for shooting at the officers. Additionally, he was charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and loaded handgun in vehicle, and is being held without bail.
The defendant was already on probation in Montgomery County after he pleaded guilty to robbery almost two years ago. This guilty finding is the reason he was prohibited from possessing a firearm. In that case he was sentenced to 18 months in jail with an additional 6.5 years of suspended time, which will now be on the table when he appears for a violation of probation. This could explain why the defendant was so motivated to avoid being captured by police. In reality, his decision to fire at the police officers will likely far outweigh any possible punishment for the violation of probation. The defendant also has three new additional criminal cases that will also likely take a back seat to the attempted murder. He has two theft and credit card fraud cases out of Montgomery County, as well as an additional armed robbery case from Prince George’s County for an alleged incident that occurred just three weeks ago. It is safe to say that the defendant will be held in the Montgomery County Correctional Facility until a trial or a plea is scheduled, with the only exception being the potential that he is charged in federal court for his actions.
The Blog will continue to follow this case and may post a follow up article in the future. It does not seem likely that this case will end up going to trial, as the evidence of guilt appears to be significant. It may be in the best interest of the defense to attempt to organize some sort of global plea agreement on the shooting case that includes the violation of probation and the new theft charges. A speedy plea agreement may prevent the matter from being picked up by the feds, though the Prince George’s County armed robbery may prove to be an obstacle. The defendant’s guidelines will likely end up being either 7-13 years or 10-15 years on the attempted murder, which all things considered could be much worse. Any plea offer would almost certainly include a charge for felon in possession of a firearm or use of a firearm in a crime of violence. In shooting cases the state typically requires this charge to assure that the first five years of the sentence are served without the possibility of parole. Regardless, the defendant would only be eligible for parole after serving at least 50 percent of the sentence, as the charges of attempted murder and first-degree assault are considered crimes of violence.
A 37-year-old man from Baltimore City was recently sentenced to 9 years in federal prison after he pleaded guilty to gun and drug charges. After serving his sentence, which under federal law does not have the possibility of parole, the defendant will be placed on 3 years of supervised release. This case is another example of a crime that was originally charged in state court, but eventually picked up and prosecuted by the feds. There does not appear to be any indication that the defendant was a large-scale dealer or that he had been under investigation by law enforcement, and there were no aggravating factors that made this violation particularly egregious. On the other hand, the feds have consistently been delivering the message that any felon who possesses a firearm in Baltimore will be subject to federal prosecution, and thus a harsher sentence. 9 years without parole is certainly a harsh sentence for a non-violent offense, but it is hardly a surprising sentence considering the climate in Baltimore right now.
According to the plea agreement the man and several associates were standing on a city sidewalk when a vehicle containing Baltimore Police detectives drove by. As the BPD patrol unit made a U-turn to approach the group, the defendant apparently walked away from the group in a manner that seemed to indicate he was armed. Police stated the defendant kept his “right arm stiff against his body” as he walked away, which is a common phrase that law enforcement uses when attempting to establish justification for a weapons search. Detectives then exited their vehicle and began to walk toward the defendant, likely to conduct a pat down for weapons. The defendant elected not to cooperate with whatever the BPD was attempting to do, and he took off running. Police stated that the defendant threw a firearm with his right hand while he was running away, and they eventually apprehended him in the area. Upon placing him under arrest police discovered 42 capsules of heroin, 33 capsules of fentanyl, 29 vials of cocaine and several baggies of marijuana. They also eventually found the handgun along with an extended magazine that was discarded during the chase.
This case presents an interesting issue regarding the legality of so-called proactive police patrolling in urban areas. Clearly the officers were not specifically looking for the defendant, and there is no indication they received a tip that the individuals on the sidewalk were armed. Rather, the police were acting on their own suspicions when they made the decision to approach the defendant. Had the defendant remained where he was or simply walked away from law enforcement, there may have been an argument that any detention was illegal. An illegal detention would have triggered a potential motion to suppress the gun and the CDS found on the defendant, but the fact that he fled effectively ended any realistic constitutional challenges to the police conduct. The law is very clear that a person is not seized by law enforcement if he or she takes off running upon their approach. Additionally, a person does not have any constitutional standing to challenge the seizure of items that are thrown away or abandoned by a suspect. Running from police is not illegal by itself, but as soon as this defendant was observed throwing a gun and a magazine there was probable cause to arrest him. Only then could police lawfully detain the man and search him incident to arrest. This case played out like many have in the past, and unfortunately there was not much the defense could do but argue for a lower sentence.
A 28-year-old man from Baltimore recently pleaded guilty in federal court to possession with intent to distribute controlled substances, possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Taken by itself, those facts are hardly an anomaly these days, as the feds have shown a proclivity to prosecute street level drug dealers (especially when heroin and fentanyl are involved). However, the facts surrounding the investigation and eventual arrest are noteworthy. Law enforcement first were alerted to the defendant’s criminal involvement as a result of a fatal heroin overdose that occurred in Harford County in 2017. As is the case with many fatal drug overdoses, law enforcement’s first lead came from the cell phone of the deceased. Police were able to see that the deceased had arranged to meet a person with an alias linked to the defendant in order to effectuate a drug transaction. The deal in question took place in a grocery store bathroom in Baltimore City, which is a common practice to assure there is no video surveillance.
Law enforcement then began tracking the defendant’s movements, and observed him making an alleged drug transaction in a gas station bathroom. The surveillance led to a search warrant, which was ultimately conducted on the defendant’s home and vehicle about one month after the fatal overdose. Police were also able to obtain permission from a judge to install a GPS tracking device on the defendant’s vehicle, another common law enforcement tactic. During execution of the warrant law enforcement recovered a firearm, $12k in cash, 82 grams of cocaine, 55 grams of heroin and 7 grams of fentanyl. Officers also seized a cell phone with the same number that the deceased was texting prior to the overdose. It wasn’t until two years later that a federal grand jury actually indicted the defendant, and now two years after that the case is finally on its way to a resolution. The defendant and the government have agreed to a sentence between 8 and 12 years, and the defendant will learn his fate in March of 2022. Multiple law enforcement agencies were involved in this investigation, including the DEA, Harford County Sheriff’s Office, Anne Arundel County Police, Baltimore County Police and the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office. The defendant has a host of prior offenses and is on probation in Baltimore City for a gun charge. The Blog will follow this case and potentially post again after the defendant is sentenced.
The defendant will receive a stiff federal sentence that is not parole eligible, and could possibly face additional state time for his violation of probation, but he avoided potential prosecution for involuntary manslaughter under Maryland criminal law §2.207. Prosecutors in jurisdictions throughout the state have been filing manslaughter charges against defendants alleged to have sold CDS (typically heroin fentanyl mix) to the victim of a fatal overdose. While the manslaughter charge carries a lower maximum penalty than the actual distribution (20 vs. 10 years), it can increase the overall sentencing guidelines, and drastically influence the State’s offer and the judge’s sentence. If you or a loved one has been charged with any type of drug offense including possession with intent to distribute, firearm possession in a drug trafficking crime or manslaughter, call Maryland criminal defense lawyer Benjamin Herbst anytime for a free consultation. Benjamin specializes in drug offenses and gun crimes, and is available 7 days a week at 410-207-2598. He has extensive experience in all Maryland jurisdictions, and is a skilled federal drug offense lawyer for cases being prosecuted in the Baltimore or Greenbelt federal courts.
Maryland has become notorious in the region for having overly harsh gun laws, and easily ranks among the top ten states in the country for the strictest set of laws. The gun laws in neighboring states to the south and west such as Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina are not even in the same league as Maryland. The same is true for other East Coast states including South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. In these states it is legal and fairly common to transport a firearm in a vehicle, and in some it’s perfectly legal to carry a handgun on your person without a permit. Maryland’s gun laws are far more in line with New Jersey and New York when it comes to carrying and transporting handguns and other firearms, and violations of these laws often mean immediate arrest and potential jail time. The Second Amendment however does still offer some protection for Maryland gun owners who wish to legally arm themselves in public, provided they fit the eligibility requirements and are willing to navigate the miles of red tape it takes to obtain a permit.
In this post we will give a brief overview of the process to obtain a license to carry a handgun, and the possible hurdles a potential applicant may face. The Handgun Qualification License or HQL does not allow a person to do anything but purchase a firearm, and will not be discussed further in this post. The majority of Maryland gun laws are listed under the Public Safety Article, which contains dozens of statutes ranging from simple to highly confusing. Title 5 deals with all the firearm laws and subtitle 3 codifies the handgun permit regulations. According to §5-303 a permit is required any time a civilian wishes to carry a handgun. Transportation of a gun may still be legal without a permit provided the owner has complied with the criminal statute that mandates the firearm be in a case, unloaded and inaccessible by the driver. The gun owner would also be limited to traveling to and from his or her home or a gun range/shop.
The first step in obtaining a Maryland handgun carry license is to determine eligibility. There is no sense in wasting the time and money to apply only to be denied due to ineligibility. An applicant must be an adult and cannot have a felony conviction or a conviction for a misdemeanor if more than 1-year of incarceration was imposed. Federal law would also prohibit an applicant who has any criminal conviction for an offense that carries more than 2 years of incarceration, regardless of the length of the actual sentence. Most people who are interested in applying for a carry permit are well aware of these few provisions, and probably would not bother applying in the first place. What they may not be aware of is that Maryland law also prohibits anyone with a drug conviction of any kind from obtaining a carry permit. This includes possession of marijuana, and cases that may have occurred decades ago. Applicants must also not be habitual users of drugs or alcohol or have exhibited a propensity for violence or instability. This last provision may apply to anyone who has been served with a domestic violence protective order.
This past week a 30-year-old Cecil County man was sentenced to more than four years in federal prison for narcotics conspiracy and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. The case was originally prosecuted in the district and dircuit courts for Cecil County located in Elkton, but the feds decided to prosecute as part of their Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) initiative, which was developed by the Justice Department in an effort to curb violent crime. While we have posted numerous articles about federal gun and drug prosecutions in the Baltimore and D.C. Metro areas, this case is another reminder that the feds will pick up felony firearm cases in all Maryland jurisdictions.
According to facts presented in the plea agreement, the defendant’s vehicle was pulled over for speeding and failing to stop at a stop sign. Upon initiating a traffic stop the Cecil County Sheriff’s deputy observed the car shake and determined that the driver and passenger had switched seats. This obviously peaked the deputy’s suspicions, though it turned out there was much more in store for the deputy to deal with. Upon asking the two men for their identification, the defendant grabbed the gear shift and told the driver to go. The deputy was able to turn the vehicle off before it could move, but then the defendant took off on foot in an attempt to flee the scene. While attempting to escape the defendant was observed throwing an object that appeared to be a firearm. The defendant was eventually apprehended by police and found to be in possession of $1,802 in cash. Police also recovered a loaded firearm in the area where the defendant fled and a small quantity of marijuana in the vehicle. Finally, deputies recovered a small amount of crack cocaine in the back of the patrol car after the defendant was removed for a medical check. The traffic stop, including the defendant fleeing with what appeared to be a firearm in his hand, was all captured on the patrol car’s dashboard camera.
The defendant was originally charged with 12 state criminal counts including illegal possession of a firearm, loaded handgun in vehicle, handgun on person, obstructing and hindering, disturbing the peace, resisting arrest and CDS possession-not marijuana. He was held without bond while the state case was pending most likely due to the firearm charge and the fact that he attempted to flee from police. Judges often make the conclusion that a defendant is a flight risk and will be unlikely to appear as directed for court if he or she is accused of attempting to flee from police during the original crime. Logically the two are quite different, but this argument often falls short in moving the needle toward release. The case was transferred to circuit court but then dismissed after the feds picked it up a couple months later. Considering the defendant faced a 5-year mandatory prison sentence without parole on the state level, he likely did not receive a much harsher sentence in federal court. A defendant who is sentenced on a 5-year mandatory offense in Maryland state court for a crime such as felon/disqualified person in possession of a firearm may still be eligible to obtain credits for good behavior etc. The defendant’s 52-month prison sentence is pretty close to what he would have served had he been convicted in state court.
The traffic stop has long since been a powerful investigative tool for law enforcement. Performing a traffic stop is perhaps the most common method for police officers to make contact with citizens. While the large majority of traffic stops remain just about the alleged traffic infraction, police are trained to look for signs of criminal activity immediately upon pulling over a vehicle. Sometimes suspects give police reason to escalate the situation by their words or actions, and other times the presence of criminal activity is based on something an officer sees or smells. Of all the traffic stops that an officer conducts, there is one scenario where the driver almost always ends up in handcuffs, and it occurs when the driver is asleep behind the wheel.
Obviously, a sleeping driver’s vehicle is rarely moving when police make contact, but Maryland case law has made it clear that an officer who approaches a parked vehicle is still making a traffic stop for legal purposes. A driver of a parked vehicle may have a legal argument if he or she is awake and not trespassing or committing some other obvious offense. In the case of the sleeping driver however, there will never be an issue about whether the officer has a legal basis to make the stop. Outside of being on private property, sleeping while in control of a motor vehicle is not only a sign that criminal activity may be afoot, but also presents a safety hazard that gives police the authority to investigate for welfare purposes. Most drivers who are asleep behind the wheel will be asked to step out of the vehicle and investigated for signs of drug or alcohol intoxication. A fair amount of DUI cases begin when an officer makes contact with a sleeping driver. In some cases though the stop becomes much more than a DUI investigation.
Back in pre-Covid era of March of 2019 (which seems like a lifetime ago) Baltimore police encountered a man asleep behind the wheel in a Reisterstown Road parking lot. Officers immediately observed signs of intoxication, including the usual slurred speech, and requested the man step out of the vehicle. Apparently in the man’s intoxicated state he forgot that he had a firearm protruding from his waistband, and he was immediately arrested. Police seized the the loaded handgun and subsequently performed a ballistics analysis to see if the firearm had been involved in any prior criminal conduct. As it turns out, the same firearm was discharged in public back in 2017 in a crime that was never solved. While nobody was injured, the incident was still part of an open investigation, and as a result Baltimore County police detectives ended up questioning the defendant about his knowledge of the Owings Mills shooting. Unfortunately for the defendant, he did not assert his right to counsel and proceeded to admit that he was the person who discharged the firearm in public, after taking it during a drug transaction. In exchange for his honesty the police proceed to charge the defendant with felony firearm possession, CDS possession of firearms and discharging a firearm in public.
Last week two Maryland men in their late 20s appeared in federal court on gun charges, and both will end up serving several years in prison. The first case was heard last Thursday in the Greenbelt federal courthouse, where a 29-year-old man from Suitland pled guilty to two counts of felon in possession of a firearm. The Prince George’s County man had been convicted of attempted distribution of cocaine in Washington D.C. back in 2014, which made him permanently ineligible to possess a firearm in all U.S. jurisdictions. Unfortunately for the defendant, law enforcement subsequently found him in possession of a firearm on at least two recent occasions. In June of 2020 Prince George’s County Police conducted a search of the defendant’s home pursuant to a warrant, and recovered a .40 caliber handgun, ammunition and CDS including buprenorphine and naloxone. These prescription drugs are used to treat heroin and other opioid addictions, but can be used as illicit substances. After being advised of his Miranda rights the defendant admitted that the firearm was in his possession.
The defendant was charged with possession with intent to distribute, and offenses related to false prescriptions. He was also charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, illegal possession of a regulated firearm and possession not marijuana. The possession with intent (PWID) charge was of the variety that comes with a 5-year maximum penalty rather than the 20-year penalty that narcotics cases carry. Despite the severity of the charges, the defendant was released on bond one day after his arrest at a district court bail review. The defendant’s lack of prior violent criminal history likely played a role in his release, as did his ties to Prince George’s County. However, less than 4 months after his release he was arrested again on gun charges. This time the arrest took place in Washington D.C., and was the result of a traffic stop that turned into a foot chase. After the defendant was pulled over for running a stop sign, police discovered that he had an active Maryland circuit court arrest warrant stemming from the PG County gun and drug case. The U.S. Attorney’s press release does not specify why the defendant had the warrant, but it was likely for violating a condition of his pre-trial release or for missing court. After the defendant was confronted about the warrant, he took off on foot in attempt to fell from police. Officers then caught the defendant and located a loaded .45 caliber handgun in his jacket pocket. The feds stepped in not long after his arrest on the D.C. case, and charged both cases together in the Greenbelt federal court. The PG circuit court case was later dismissed along with the D.C. case, and now the defendant faces up to 10-years in prison on each count when he is sentenced in November of this year.
The second case occurred just one day later in the Baltimore City federal courthouse, where a 28-year-old Baltimore man was sentenced to 57 months in federal prison, followed by 3 years of supervised release for one count of felon in possession of a firearm. This defendant was originally arrested on state charges after being arrested at the end of 2019. According to the plea, Baltimore Police officers observed the defendant conduct a drug transaction and then gave chase. The defendant fled on his bicycle and eventually on foot, but officers caught up with him and found a loaded 9 mm handgun as well as cocaine and fentanyl packaged for sale. He was charged with possession of a firearm in a drug trafficking crime, illegal possession of a firearm, PWID narcotics and other offenses, though the state case was dismissed after the feds decided to prosecute. The defendant was prohibited from possessing guns due to felony convictions from 2015 that involved narcotics distribution.