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Articles Posted in Misdemeanors

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vehicle-69771_1280-200x300Last week Baltimore County Police responded to a shopping center to investigate a call regarding unattended children in a car.  Upon arriving at the Randallstown strip mall police were able to locate a black Honda Accord with the hazard lights on, and an infant and a toddler in the back seat with no adult in sight.  After checking on the welfare of the children and determining that there were no immediate health concerns, officers then set out to locate the owner of the vehicle to determine who was supposed to be caring for the children.  An initial search of all the nearby shops produced negative results, so police were forced to break one of the car windows in order to reach the children.  Officers apparently tried to instruct the 3-year old to open the car door before they made the decision to break the window.  EMTs were called to the scene to check on the children while police continued to search for the owner of the car.  After again searching all nearby businesses, police noticed a nail salon with the shades drawn, which made it impossible to see if there was anyone inside.  They knocked on the front door and it turned out there were multiple adults inside, including the owner of the Honda where the children were found.  As is sometimes the case with a routine call to service, police found a lot more than they were looking for.

It turned out that the nail salon had been operating illegally in violation of the Maryland governor’s executive order.  All beauty salons in Maryland remained closed until last Friday evening throughout the state, but Baltimore County and other counties such as Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s County have delaying reopening. Though rather than cite the business for violating section 14-3A-08 of the Maryland Public Safety Code (a criminal misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail), police turned their attention to the owner of the Honda who put two children in danger.  Police ended up charging the woman with two counts of confining an unattended child under section 5-801 of the family law article.  This offense carries the possibility of up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine upon conviction.  This means the 22-year old Baltimore City woman faces up to 60 days in jail when she appears before a District Court Judge in Catonsville for her August trial date.  It does not look like the young woman has any adult prior criminal record in Maryland, so she may be afforded the benefit of probation before judgment and avoid jail time.  On the other hand, the judge will not necessarily be sympathetic to a person who left children unattended to get a manicure during a statewide stay at home order.  Had the woman been shopping for food or other essential items, maybe she could have some reasonable mitigation arguments.  It is understandable that parents would not want to potentially expose their children to the virus, but still, leaving them in the car unattended is not a safer option.

Maryland law prohibits an adult from leaving a child under the age of 8 unattended in a motor vehicle, home or other enclosure.  The law requires that the state prove the adult was charged with the care of the child or children, and that the motor vehicle, home or enclosure be out of site from the adult.  It is a defense if another child 13 years of age or older is with the younger child, but the older child must be considered reliable.  A defendant may be able to argue that child was never out of sight, but this factual affirmative defense must be argued at trial.  It may be a bit optimistic to assume a district court judge would apply the proof beyond a reasonable doubt standard when considering this defense.  Leaving a child unattended is actual a fairly common offense, and many times the defendant was simply running a quick errand.  In this incident, reports alleged the children had been left in the car for up to an hour, which further adds to the aggravating nature of the defendant’s case.

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pills_money-300x199The Maryland State Police recently announced the indictments of 18 defendants in a large drug conspiracy that spanned numerous counties and stretched into Delaware. The investigation began last fall state when police investigators received information that a male suspect was involved in a drug trafficking ring operating out of Queen Anne’s County. Narcotics detectives had reason to believe that this particular suspect, who lived in Kent County, assisted in the importation and distribution of large amounts of opioids including oxycodone, fentanyl, morphine, methadone and heroin throughout the state. Further investigation also revealed this suspect’s alleged involvement with another Kent County man in cocaine trafficking. Both male suspects were self employed, which further peaked the interests of law enforcement officers about the possibility of ongoing money laundering. As the investigation progressed, police officers from numerous jurisdictions including Talbot County and Anne Arundel County coordinated their efforts to develop more suspects in the case. Delaware State Police, Natural Resources Police, and local departments from Chestertown and Centreville also assisted, and the culmination of this investigation occurred this past week with the announcement of 18 arrests from indictments in the Circuit Court for Queen Anne’s County.

The two original suspects now face over 50 charges apiece, including multiple counts for conspiracy to distribute narcotics and CDS. According to the State Police report these two defendants allegedly conspired to import over 3.5 pounds of cocaine and 5000 pills, including 4000 of oxycodone and 50 pills each of morphine and fentanyl in just one 6-week period. The street value of these drugs is estimated at $130,000. Oddly, neither defendant faces any felony charges on these indictments; Maryland law classifies all conspiracy crimes as common law misdemeanors. But despite being misdemeanors, many of these counts carry 20-year maximum penalties, which state prosecutors will undoubtedly use as leverage to during plea negotiations. The extraordinarily high bails, one being $250,000 and the other being $350,000 also reflect the severity of these charges. There does not appear to be any physical evidence directly attributed to the two main defendants at this time (hence the conspiracy charges), though law enforcement did execute numerous search and seizure warrants and recovered a great deal of contraband. All told, there were 14 firearms, hundreds of pills, crack cocaine, marijuana and almost $100,000 dollars in U.S. currency recovered. Police also seized 15 vehicles that may be kept and then auctioned under state forfeiture laws.

The Blog will continue to follow this case as it progresses through the circuit court. It will be interesting to see whether there are any suppression issues raised in pre-trial proceedings, as it is unclear how police received all of their information. In any large-scale criminal investigation police often receive much of their intelligence from confidential informants, though CI’s alone will not suffice if the kingpins are careful. Prior coordinated law enforcement operations on the Eastern Shore have benefitted from the use of wiretap warrants, which could have sealed the fate of the defendants in this case.

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1380109_the_maryland_state_house.jpgThe Maryland Legislature recently passed a bill that will lower the maximum penalty for possession of marijuana from 1 year in jail to 90 days in jail. Maximum fines for marijuana possession will also drop from $1000 to $500. The bill was signed into law by Governor O’Malley and will go into effect in October of 2012. The Maryland marijuana bill only applies to simple possession of less than 10 grams of the plant, a compromise between the two legislative chambers. The Maryland Senate wanted the new bill to apply to possession of any amount less than 14 grams of marijuana, or one half ounce, but the Maryland House wanted reduced punishments only for less than 7 grams, or one quarter ounce of marijuana. The Maryland law makers eventually agreed on the 10 gram limit, and the bill easily passed both chambers by a vote of 41-5 in the Senate, and 92-31 in the House.

Maryland law makers have recently been focused on streamlining the judicial system, and the marijuana bill appears to be a small step in that direction. According to the FBI, Maryland police officers made nearly 24,000 marijuana arrests in 2010. Many of the resulting criminal marijuana cases can linger for months in Maryland circuit courts, because defendants who face more than 90 days in jail are entitled to a circuit court jury trial. Only a fraction of these circuit court cases are actually tried in front of a jury. Criminal defense lawyers, and the defendants themselves are aware that these cases often end up being dismissed or reduced after months of stagnation in circuit court. The theory that good things happen to those that wait out their criminal cases is often true for defendants, but the judicial system ends up bearing the burden, and has become increasingly and unnecessarily bogged down.
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127500_get_out_varmit.jpgMaryland trespass laws have recently become a hot topic after two men were arrested for trespassing at Oriole Park at Camden Yards by Baltimore City police officers. The first incident occurred on opening day as the Orioles took on the Minnesota Twins in front of a rare sellout crowd. A 26 year old man from Severn, Maryland ran on to the field during the game dressed in a cape. Unfortunately for the Severn man the cape did not come complete with flying capabilities, and the trespasser was arrested shortly after entering the field of play. The aspiring superhero turned fourth outfielder managed to avoid criminal prosecution, albeit to none of his own credit. Lawyers from the Baltimore prosecutor’s office apparently failed to file charges due to an office miscommunication. The second incident occurred just 3 days later when a 19 year old Baltimore man dashed onto the field during the 12th inning of a frustrating loss to the Yankees. The 19 year old Baltimore man was not wearing a costume and did not receive the benefit of a prosecutorial miscommunication, as he now faces charges of trespass, disorderly conduct, and disturbing the peace.

Both opening week trespassers received lifetime bans from the famous downtown Baltimore ballpark by the Orioles organization. Under Maryland law it is perfectly legal for property owners to impose, long term and even lifetime bans on private property. In order to impose these bans, a property owner need only to notify the person whom they are seeking to keep out. Police officers typically act as agents for the property owners and have the power to issue written no trespass warnings that serve as proper notice. If a person is found in violation of a no trespass warning, they could face a misdemeanor criminal charge with a maximum jail sentence of 90 days. These bans can also be imposed by a judge or as part of a special condition of probation. Violation of a judge’s order could result in criminal charges as well as being held in contempt of court. If a defendant violates a “no return” condition of probation he or she faces violation of probation sanctions that may include jail time or increased probation time.
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