The 2022 Maryland legislative session is still a few weeks away from commencing, but there is already a proposed bill on the books. House Bill 1 was pre-filed last week by a state delegate from Baltimore City, who is also the chairman of the state’s cannabis workgroup that was formed over the summer. The text of the bill was made available to the public on December 22 but will not officially be introduced in Annapolis until January 12, 2022. The bill basically directs the General Assembly to create law governing the legal use of cannabis for all adults over age over 21 as long as it passes in the next general election. This means voters will ultimately decide whether marijuana becomes legal in November of 2022. The question on the ballot will be short and sweet, and read “Do you favor the legalization of adult-use cannabis in the State of Maryland”. As regular readers are aware, cannabis legalization has consistently been supported by the majority of Maryland residents according to scientific polling. The most recent polling conducted by Goucher College in Towson has support for legalization over 60 percent, which is well beyond the possible margin of error. If the voters act as Goucher predicts it looks like we’ll have recreational marijuana for sale in Maryland as early as July of 2023.
In order for this pre-filed bill to make it to become law and end up on the ballot in November it would have to be approved by at least three fifths of the total members of the House and Senate. In reality there will likely be at least four fifths or 80 plus percent of lawmakers supporting the proposed referendum when it’s all said and done. The legislature will then get busy creating rules for use, distribution, possession, regulation and taxation of cannabis within the state. Two of the main issues regarding cannabis legalization (at least in the eyes of lawmakers) are determining where the tax revenue will go and addressing the impacts to law enforcement and the rest of the criminal justice system. Some lawmakers have expressed concerns over the possibility of increased cases of impaired driving, and the inability of police to determine impairment, though law enforcement officers are already trained to recognize impairment from other substances besides alcohol. Additionally, the standardized roadside exercises created by the NHTSA are not only designed for alcohol use.
The real drastic change for law enforcement after marijuana is legalized will be with probable cause determination to search upon stopping a vehicle. Police will no longer be able to search a vehicle based on the smell of cannabis once it’s legalized for recreational use. While possession of small amounts of pot are no longer criminal, it is still considered contraband for those of us without medical marijuana cards. Contraband means illegal regardless of whether there are criminal or civil punishments. There will be exceptions to his rule of course, as drivers (and potentially passengers) under the age of 21 would likely still be subject to automobile searches by police. Possession of marijuana by an individual under 21 will probably a similar civil infraction to possession of alcohol by a minor, but both are still illegal and require a court appearance.
A former high ranking official for the Maryland Governor has pleaded not-guilty to four federal charges of wire fraud and two charges of misappropriation. The 52-year-old former chief of staff to the Governor is accused of various missteps including using funds belonging to the State of Maryland to make a charitable contribution to a museum where he was a member of the board of directors. The funds came from the Maryland Environmental Service corporation, where the defendant served as executive director prior to taking a position with the governor’s office in Annapolis. Perhaps the most egregious allegation was that the defendant caused the board at his former employer to approve paying him a full year’s salary, over $200k, upon leaving to take the job with the governor. The defendant apparently told the board that the governor himself approved to so called severance package, though the governor has vigorously denied any such approval. In total, the former chief of staff is facing up to 100 years in prison and tens of thousands of dollars in fines. He will obviously not serve anywhere close to the maximum amount of jail if convicted, but the charges are certainly severe. The government informed the Federal Judge in the Baltimore courthouse that trial would take two weeks to complete, though there is no indication on whether advanced plea negotiations are taking place. Discovery is apparently voluminous, and the defense needs time to assess the case before advising the client.
The same defendant is also facing a 27-count criminal information in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County for various other state offense including misconduct in office and violations of Maryland’s wiretapping laws. There are allegations that the defendant secretly recorded conversations with the Governor and other high ranking state officials. The state case has not been set for trial yet, and has a status conference scheduled in the middle of December. There will likely be a ton of evidence for the defense to sift through in order to properly evaluate the case, so we do not expect a swift resolution. Both cases may end up in trial or the defense may be able to work out some sort of global plea agreement. Right now it is simply too early to tell which direction these cases are headed, but the Blog will post a follow-up article as news becomes available.
Maryland has strict laws regarding the recording or intercepting of private conversations and telephone calls, and each violation is a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Even if another person uses or publishes a recording that has been intercepted unlawfully it could be a crime as long the publisher should have known a the recording was illegal. Maryland is considered a two-party state when it comes to recording or intercepting conversations, which means both parties must be aware of the recording. There are exceptions including when the police are conducting active investigations for a host of different crimes including murder, kidnapping, sex offenses, robbery, bribery, fraud, felony theft, firearms crimes and drug distribution. In these cases the police may intercept wire, oral or electronic evidence in order to provide evidence of the crime. The Maryland wiretapping law is codified under Title 10 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings section of the state laws, and not the criminal law section. Subtitle 4 of the evidence part of this section covers wiretapping and electronic surveillance, and section 10-402 is the actual wiretapping law.
Earlier this week the mayor of Cambridge was arrested and charged with 50 misdemeanor counts for violating a Maryland statute commonly known as the revenge porn law. The 32-year-old defendant is a graduate of Penn State University and a lifelong resident of Dorchester County. When elected in January he became the youngest mayor in the history of Cambridge, and now it appears his time in office will end just shy of one year. The charges were filed in the Circuit Court for Dorchester County via criminal information on November 15, which is the same day the arrest warrant was served. This means the mayor likely knew about the pending charges in advance, and had time to hire counsel and plan a date to surrender to law enforcement. The mayor was released on his own recognizance the same day he surrendered, likely as a result of his lack of prior record, strong ties to the community and voluntary surrender with counsel. A scheduling conference is set for the first week in December, and from there status, motions and trial dates will be set. Trial will likely be set sometime around April or May, but there is a good chance the case may be resolved before then.
According to the 27-page charging document the mayor’s ex-girlfriend contacted law enforcement back in May when she discovered nude photographs of herself on a social media platform. The victim apparently told law enforcement she only sent the pictures to one person, the mayor, and never gave him permission to distribute or post them. Law enforcement then traced the origin of the posts back to an IP address tied to the mayor’s home in Cambridge. In total the defendant was charged with 50 counts in violation of Maryland law section 3-809, which is part of the stalking and harassment section of the criminal code. This offense was created back in 2014, and is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 2 years in prison and a $5,000 fine for each count. In order to establish a violation of this offense the state must prove the defendant knowingly and without consent distributed a visual representation of another engaged in sexual activity or with intimate parts exposed with the intent to harm, harass or intimidate the person depicted. It seems clear from the charging document that the images meet the criteria, and the victim did not consent. Therefore, all that is left to prove is that the defendant himself knowingly posted the pictures.
The case is being prosecuted by the Office of the Maryland State Prosecutor, which is an independent office that was established in 1976 in order to combat public corruption. The creation of this office may have stemmed directly from the outrage over the Watergate scandal during Nixon’s presidency. Functions of the office include investigating, and if warranted, prosecuting government officials, employees or institutions that are alleged to have engaged in offenses such as bribery, extortion, perjury, obstruction of justice, voting law violations, misconduct in office and any other criminal offense. The State Prosecutor’s Office is located in Towson, and is a separate entity from the Attorney General’s Office. Located in Baltimore City, the AG prosecutes public corruption as well as complex multi-jurisdictional criminal schemes such as gang activity and drug distribution rings.
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.
The 2021 H2O1 pop-up car rally is officially underway, and law enforcement is preparing to keep this unofficial event as safe as possible. Despite a supposed move to New Jersey a few years back, the event still calls Ocean City home, and thousands will flock to Maryland’s Eastern Shore this week. The event has a decade of history in Worcester County, and despite lawmakers and the city police department’s best efforts, it does not appear to being going away any time soon. Lawmakers can’t simply ban the event because it is not an officially sanctioned event in the first place. There are no licenses issued by the town, and there is no promoter or company that actually runs the event. Short of closing down the town for the week or imposing some sort of over-intrusive curfew (which would never happen and would be unconstitutional) the town will once again be forced to make the event as safe as possible for participants and spectators alike.
In 2020 the number of arrests during the rally actually decreased from 121 the year before to an even 100. On the other hand, the amount of traffic citations issued during the event rose to nearly 3.5 thousand. Additionally, 350 cars were towed for various infractions including camber violations that make the cars illegal for street use. Many visitors to Ocean City have noticed signage on Coastal Highway that displays the Special Event Zone message, and this law was actually created back in 2018 in response to the Ocean City Pop-up rally. The town wanted to give police more authority to enforce the traffic laws, and believed that simply writing citations would not do the trick. Lawmakers succumbed to the pressure and created the Special Event Zone to give police authority to arrest drivers for so called “exhibition driving”.
According section 21-1132 of the Transportation Article under Maryland law, exhibition driving is defined as operating a vehicle in a manner that results in excessive or abrupt acceleration or deceleration, skidding, burning or smoking of the tires, swerving or swaying, or revving the engine in an unreasonably loud or disturbing manner. Grinding of the gears and causing the wheels to lose contact with the ground is also included in the statute. Exhibition driving while in Special Event Zone is now punishable by up to 60 days in jail, and a fine of $1,000, and police officers will arrest a defendant for this type of driving. We have seen numerous cases where defendants are arrested for exhibition driving even if their actions did not place anyone in danger. To make matters worse, some out of state defendants are not released by the commissioner, and could held overnight in jail until seeing a judge the next day. Not only will police arrest an individual for exhibition driving, the State’s Attorney’s Office will almost certainly prosecute these cases. In addition to exhibition driving being an arrestable offense, the fine for speeding in a special offense zone increases to $1,000. With the speed limit on coastal highway decreasing to 30 mph during the events, police are almost running out of paper to issue the tickets.
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.
A veteran officer of the Anne Arundel County Police Department was arrested last week in Howard County on multiple charges including assault second degree, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. The 35-year-old corporal from Pasadena has been with the department for 8 years, and was suspended with pay following the arrest. He currently is scheduled for trial in Ellicott City on July 13, though the case may be postponed or moved to the circuit court before it is resolved. All of the charges are classified as misdemeanors, but the defendant can elect to have a jury trial if he and his attorney prefer the case to be handled in circuit court.
According to the statement of charges, Howard County Police officers responded to a bar on Washington Blvd. in Elkridge shortly before 2 a.m. after a fight broke out. As officers dispersed the crowd one person remained on the scene and was showing signs of intoxication. This intoxicated individual turned out to be an off-duty police officer, and was placed under arrest after failing to comply with the Howard County cops and then allegedly kicking one of them. The off-duty Anne Arundel officer was taken to central booking in Jessup and released on his own recognizance by the commissioner the same morning. Assault in the second degree is the most serious charge that the suspended officer is facing, and under Maryland law it carries a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in jail. A person convicted of second-degree assault in Maryland is also prohibited from owning or possessing a firearm according to the public safety code. The public safety code in Maryland classifies assault in the second degree as a crime of violence, which can be confusing, as it is not considered a crime of violence under criminal law §14-101 for purposes of parole eligibility.
In Maryland, a defendant who has a conviction for second-degree assault faces a 5-year mandatory sentence if he or she is arrested for illegal possession of a firearm. Even if the defendant who received probation before judgment faces this mandatory prison sentence if the case was marked domestically related. In the case of the off-duty Anne Arundel cop, the case is not domestically related and thus he will not lose his ability to own or possess a firearm if probation before judgment is granted (after probation has been completed). In all likelihood the suspended officer’s lawyer should be able to convince the State to dismiss or nolle pros. the assault charge in favor of one of the lesser charges. The most likely outcome in this case would probably look something like a plea to the disorderly conduct or a STET with the condition that the defendant complete some sort of alcohol treatment. The officer is likely a first-time offender and will certainly face discipline for his actions from his employer, which is something the prosecution and judge should consider. On the other hand, the judge and State may point out that a police officer should be held to a higher standard even when off-duty. It will be interesting to see how this case plays out, and the Blog will post a follow up article upon resolution of the matter.
The Town of Ocean City, Maryland’s only incorporated beach town, is considering strict noise ordinances that would potentially criminalize loud behavior on the popular boardwalk. The regionally famous boardwalk is home to dozens of businesses including restaurants and hotels, and many have expressed frustration over the unpoliced noise. The same boisterous activity that attracts the crowds to the southern end of town may also be pushing tourists from actually doing business on the boardwalk. Families and other visitors still love coming to visit the boardwalk, but many are inclined to sleep or have a sit-down meal elsewhere due to the noise and commotion.
Last summer the town retained noise consultants to establish baseline decibel levels for certain parts of the boardwalk, and then worked from there to propose potential limits. These limits would be based on the specific location and time of day, with enforcement being conducted in a standardized method. The city has already established that daytime activities run from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and 7 a.m. to midnight on weekends. If the ordinance becomes effective this summer there would likely be an influx to town police officers hitting the boardwalk with handheld decibel meters when the clock strikes 12. Anyone convicted of the new noise violations would likely face up to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine if the ordinance classifies the offense as a misdemeanor. Ocean City already has some of the strictest local ordinances in the state, and various acts that would otherwise be punishable as a civil infraction are criminalized in in OCMD.
Alcohol violations are typically charged as civil infractions under Maryland law, and violators are ticketed and told to appear in court. Their cases are classified as CZs rather than CRs and are not punishable by the possibility of incarceration. On the other hand, in Ocean City these same violations carry the potential for up to 90 days in the Worcester County jail. Thankfully, three months in the county lockup is an unrealistic punishment for walking down Coastal Highway with a White Claw, but the bigger issue is that any offense punishable by jail time gives the police the authority to arrest. Not only does an arrest trigger irreversible consequences such as a permanent FBI record, but it also allows the police to search a person and his or her belongings. Search incident to arrest is a powerful evidence gathering tool for police, and often the secondary offenses based on items recovered in searches are greater than the initial reason for the arrest.