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handcuffs-2102488__480-300x169Each year in Maryland thousands of warrants are issued for defendants in criminal and traffic cases.  To say it’s an uneasy feeling to have a warrant is an understatement, as sooner or later most of us will have some sort of interaction with a police officer.  The majority of these interactions come during traffic stops, but even those who don’t drive can find themselves in a conversation with law enforcement.  A good deal of individuals first discover they have a warrant from a police officer when it’s already too late to do something about it.  The exception would be for a person who is out of state and police discovery a non-extraditable misdemeanor warrant.  In these cases, the warrant can still be addressed while the defendant is out on the street, as local police will not arrest a person they know will not be picked up by Maryland.  Anyone with a Maryland warrant who comes in contact with an officer in the state will be arrested and taken before a judge or a commissioner.  At this time the only thing to do would be to hire a criminal defense lawyer to handle the bail review and/or the initial appearance.  A defendant is entitled to representation during his or her initial appearance with a commissioner, and it definitely helps to have a lawyer.  An experienced lawyer may be the difference between securing release on bond or on recognizance, which will save a person from spending the night in jail.

For those who learn about a warrant before coming in contact with police there are a few steps to take.  Unless a defendant is prepared to go to jail right away, it always makes sense to at least try to address the warrant beforehand.  Even if a defendant has no intention of coming back to Maryland, a warrant can prevent a person from renewing his or her driver’s license anywhere in the county, and can show up on background checks for decades.  Writing a letter to a judge will likely not get the job done, but hiring a lawyer or applying for the public defender and having them file a motion to recall the warrant will have a much higher success rate.  A lawyer will look into the case to see why exactly the warrant was issued, and then tailor a motion to best address any issues the judge may have.  The lawyer first needs to determine what type of warrant was issued.

There are two types of warrants in Maryland, but both instruct a police officer to arrest the defendant and bring him or her before a judge or commissioner.  Bench warrants are the most common type of warrants, and typically are issued in traffic and misdemeanor cases.  They are called bench warrants because they are issued by a judge (from the bench where they sit in court).  The two most common bench warrants are failure to appear bench warrants and violation of probation warrants.  Anyone who fails to appear in court for trial, motions or even for their initial appearance could have a bench warrant issued.  Bench warrants typically instruct the police to take the defendant before a district court commissioner, who will then determine whether to release the defendant.  A warrant like this will say “to be set by commissioner”.  In some cases, a judge may issue a no bail bench warrant where the defendant would have to see a judge in order to be released.

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squad-car-1209719_960_720-300x162The proximity of Maryland to our nation’s capital results in an increased federal law enforcement presence.  Most people are aware that the numerous military bases such as Fort Meade, Andrews and Aberdeen Proving Ground are patrolled by federally sanctioned police forces.  What most people don’t realize though, is that several major highways in Maryland are actually located on national park land that is maintained and policed by the federal government.  The largest and most travelled of these highways is the Baltimore Washington Parkway, also known as 295.  The BW Parkway links the cities of Baltimore and Washington D.C., but is also a common thoroughfare for those traveling to and from Prince George’s County, Howard County and Anne Arundel County.  In addition, 295 is the major access point of a variety of federal facilities such as Goddard and the NSA.  Needless to say, it’s a busy highway at all hours of the day, which translates to a large number of accidents, traffic stops and arrests.

When an accident or traffic stop occurs on a Maryland parkway such as 295 or the Clara Barton, the U.S. Park Police will likely be the law enforcement agency that arrives on scene.  Any driver who is cited for an infraction such as speeding will be issued a citation and given the option to pre-pay a fine.  Drivers charged with more serious offenses such as DUI, driving without a license, leaving the scene of an accident, and open container will be issued a citation with a mandatory appearance noted on the bottom left of the ticket.  Failure to maintain control of a motor vehicle may also result in a mandatory court appearance, which is not the case for state citations related to causing an accident.  Drivers cited for must appear offenses will eventually receive a court date from the Central Violations Bureau or CVB.  The CVB could take months to process the case, and during COVID we even saw cases set more than 2 years after the alleged violation (federal cases have a 5-year statute of limitations).

Lately it appears the cases are set within a few months, so anyone charged should expect a court notice in the mail within 90 days of being issued the citation.  Federal traffic citations are first set for an initial appearance where the judge will advise the defendant of the charges and potential consequences.  A lawyer may be able to waive the initial appearance in the Baltimore federal court, but the defendant will likely have to appear for initial appearance if the case is at the Greenbelt federal court.  The maximum punishment for a federal traffic violation is typically 6 months in jail and fines that could be several thousand dollars, but an officer has the ability to charge a defendant with a violation of a Maryland state law.  In the case of DUI or leaving the scene of an accident the maximum penalty would then be up to one year under the Maryland Transportation Article.  If the citation says MTA next to the statute number, then the driver has been charged under Maryland law and could potentially receive a stay of judgment, which is similar to probation before judgment (PBJ).  Citations that contain a statue under 36 CFR are federal, and a stay of judgment is not a possibility.  Unlike state cases, a person who is convicted of a federal traffic citation will not typically receive points on his or her driver’s license.

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police-850054_960_720-300x212New data from the Ocean City Police Department supports the contention that crime is steadily decreasing since all-time highs during the summer of 2021.  According to reports recently presented to the city’s Police Commission, 487 individuals were arrested this past June compared to 519 in 2022 and 773 in 2021.  Both drug and weapons arrests were down significantly to start this summer compared to the last two years, with just 59 people being arrested on weapons charges such as wear, transport or carry of a firearm and possession of a dangerous weapon.  Almost double the number of defendants were arrested and charged in 2021, with 111 in June of that year.  79 people were arrested on weapons charges in 2022, which further supports the steady decline.  As for drug charges, only 28 individuals were arrested for such crimes as possession not marijuana and possession with intent to distribute in Ocean City this past June compared to 78 in June of 2021.

Part of the decline could be attributed to the change in the Maryland marijuana laws, which in June of this year only permitted police to make a marijuana possession arrest if the suspect had more than 1.5 ounces.  Still, there were only 15 marijuana citations issued this past June compared to 142 in 2022 and 152 in 2021.  This shows that OC cops are largely ignoring simple possession of marijuana, and will now be forced to do so since legalization went into effect on July 1.  Police are still permitted to issue citations for smoking in public, but only 57 were issued last month compared to 352 last year.  It seems the police have been less inclined to enforce smoking in public laws due to the verbal and occasional physical disputes these citations can cause between law enforcement and the public.

Drinking in public and open container violations still carry jail time under local Ocean City law, but these cases have also gone down.  The department reported issuing 299 alcohol citations this past June compared to 406 and 648 issued in the past two Junes respectively.  Total local ordinance violations this June came in at 839 comparted to about 1,500 over the past two Junes.  Finally, calls for domestic assaults were down to 59 last month compared to 78 and 118 the past two Junes.  During a press conference at the town’s Public Safety Building next to the District Court on 65th Street, the police chief emphasized that his officers were not decreasing enforcement, but rather the public was increasing compliance.  There is no quantifiable way to test the voracity of this statement, and it certainly sounds better than the former.

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packs-163497_1280-300x200This past week Anne Arundel County Police were called to a gas station in Linthicum Heights for a bizarre attempted robbery that ended with the suspect fleeing the scene empty handed.  According to police a man approached a gas station clerk just before midnight on the eve of July 4th and requested cigarettes.  After requesting the smokes, the man then allegedly placed a cup on the store counter and demanded that the clerk put all the money in said cup.  There was no indication that the man ever brandished or possessed an actual weapon, but the clerk apparently told police the suspect implied that he had a weapon.  The brief standoff ended when another customer walked into the store, which apparently spooked the attempted robber.  Reports described the suspect as being slim, of average height and sporting a blonde beard.  He was wearing a hood and a camouflage hat and fled in a silver Honda with another individual.

While this attempted robbery was hardly the crime of the holiday weekend, it does raise a few relevant issues regarding the definition of robbery and armed robbery.  Under Maryland law there is no separate statutory crime for attempted robbery or attempted theft as a defendant faces the full punishment even if the crime is unsuccessful.  In fact, murder is one of the only charges that provides a separate statutory crime for attempt.  Robbery requires the State to prove the defendant intentionally took something of value from another person through the use of force or the threat of force.  A defendant does not have to take a tangible object to be charged, as obtaining services through the use of force is also considered robbery.  Maryland has specific laws for six different types of robbery.  The most common is standard robbery, which is a felony that carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.  Robbery is considered a level 4 offense according to the Maryland sentencing guidelines, which means a person with no prior record who is found guilty could still certainly avoid serving any time in jail.

Armed robbery is actually called robbery with a dangerous weapon in Maryland, and it carries a 20-year maximum penalty.  Robbery with a dangerous weapon is considered a level 3 offense, which scores significantly higher on the sentencing guidelines.  Juveniles 16 and over who are charged with robbery with a dangerous weapon must be charged as adults, which is not the case with standard robbery.  Carjacking is also technically part of the robbery statute, and it carries a harsh 30-year maximum penalty.  Armed carjacking carries the same 30-year maximum, but is considered a level 2 offense.  Finally, the least common of the six is robbery by display of a written instrument claiming to be in possession of a dangerous weapon.  This offense is treated like robbery with a dangerous weapon regardless of whether a weapon was recovered by police.  It has a 20-year maximum penalty, and is typically seen in bank robbery cases.  A defendant in any type of robbery case could also be charged with conspiracy if there was another person involved.  Conspiracy makes the offense a misdemeanor, but does not change the maximum penalty.
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1164850_law_badge-272x300Anne Arundel County Police recently arrested a 64-year-old man from Annapolis after he was allegedly wandering around Jennifer Road sporting an FBI hat and a gold-colored badge around his neck.  Police responded to the scene to make contact with the man, where he allegedly informed officers that he was an ATF agent.  To make matters worse the man also reportedly exposed himself and urinated in the road.  Police were eventually able to arrest the man, and later charged him with impersonating an officer, indecent exposure, disorderly conduct and a violation of the alcohol and beverage code for disorderly intoxication.  The man was ultimately released on his own recognizance for the impersonation charge, but he remains locked up at the detention center due to a separate case involving possession of a loaded handgun and intoxicated endangerment.

Just one day after the defendant was released on the impersonating charge, he allegedly showed up at the Anne Arundel Medical Center and threatened to kill a patient.  The threat was made to third party and not directly to the patient.  The man was escorted outside the hospital by security, and when police showed up, he was found to be in possession of two firearms.  He was arrested and charged with two counts of firearm possession and intoxicated endangerment for his behavior toward the hospital staff.  Responding officers initially recommended charges of first-degree assault, but since the threat to kill was made to a third party, the law does not support a charge for assault.  The defendant also did not brandish or point his firearms at anyone, and thus there was no evidence to support assault with a firearm.  After being arrested and booked the defendant was held without bail and committed to the hospital for further evaluation.  At the station he took a preliminary breath test, which revealed an alcohol content of almost three times the legal limit to drive.

During the time between the male defendant’s two arrests, another individual was arrested for impersonating an officer in Anne Arundel County.  Just 5 hours after the man was initially arrested on Jennifer Road, a 32-year-old Glen Burnie woman was arrested under similar circumstances.  Around 10 p.m. Anne Arundel County Police responded to a gas station for a call about a woman asking to buy drugs from patrons.  Police made contact with the woman as she was seated in her vehicle and noticed her sitting with her head slumped over, and suspect cocaine and a straw in the center console.  The responding officer also noticed signs of impairment when talking to woman.  According to the charging document the woman told the officer she was an undercover police officer herself, but could not provide any further proof.  Based on these observations the officer ordered the woman out of the vehicle to investigate further, but she refused to comply.  After a struggle that lasted more than 5 minutes the officer was eventually able to detain the woman.  She was ultimately charged with DUI, impersonating an officer, possession of CDS, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, obstructing and hindering and disorderly intoxication.  Under Maryland law a person can be charged with DUI even if they were not actually driving.  The law only requires the State to prove a person intended to drive.  Intent can be proven with evidence a person was in physical control of a motor vehicle, which typically means they are in the driver’s seat with the keys accessible.  This defendant was held without bail by a judge at the Glen Burnie District Court the following day, and remains in custody.

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courtroom-898931_1280-300x226Next week four defendants will be brought to trial at the Baltimore County Circuit Court for their alleged involvement in a stabbing that resulted in the death of a 45-year-old man.  The incident occurred in February of 2021 in the parking lot of a Dundalk restaurant and bar, though arrests were not made until April of 2022.  Six individuals were initially charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and first-degree assault, but one was cleared a short time later.  Two of the defendants were ultimately released from custody pending trial, and three remain held without bail.  One of the defendants who was released from custody has agreed to testify as a state’s witness, and this week, lawyers for the remaining four defendants engaged in heated arguments over late evidence and evidence that the State neglected to disclose.  Despite numerous evidentiary issues, the case remains on track to be tried beginning on May 1.  The cooperating witness’ trial is scheduled separately in June, and assuming he testifies per his agreement with the State, he will likely enter into a favorable plea agreement.

Despite the incident occurring in 2021 and being originally charged in 2022, state prosecutors decided to file a superseding indictment just two weeks ago that added charges of accessory after the fact to murder in the first degree for some of the defendants.  This became a major issue for the respective defense teams, who now have to scramble to adjust their defenses to account for the new charges.  The state claimed the late charges were due to unavoidable delays related to the FBI’s cell phone location data crime lab.  The state maintained that they turned over the evidence as soon as it became available, though far too late in the eyes of the defense lawyers.  Cell phone tracking data is often difficult in interpret and can require an expert to explain to

 laymen such as jurors in a criminal case.  Defense lawyers argued that securing an expert could take weeks if not months, and therefore the late cell phone data should be excluded.  Typically, when the state provides late evidence, the remedy would be to postpone the case, but when defendants are sitting in jail this becomes extremely prejudicial.  No defendant should have to sit in jail awaiting trial longer than necessary, and unfortunately in a Maryland murder case there is a low chance that the judge would consider releasing a defendant due to a state’s postponement.

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pistol-1350484_1280-300x200The House and Senate approved Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 824, and both will almost certainly become law on October 1, 2023.  House Bill 824 did not receive much fanfare, but will further tighten Maryland’s already strict gun laws.  The Bill, which was introduced by a Delegate who also serves as an Assistant State’s Attorney in Anne Arundel County, expands prohibitions on regulated firearm possession under the Public Safety Code.  Starting in the Fall anyone who is one supervised probation for an offense that carries a maximum penalty of 1 year or more in jail will not be able to possess a firearm.  The new prohibition also includes those on probation for DUI or DWI under the §21-902 (a) and (b) of the Transportation Article.  Defendants on probation for violating a protective order would also be prohibited from possessing a regulated firearm.  This provision only applies to individuals who are placed on supervised probation after being convicted, which means that those granted probation before judgment would not be subject to a charge under the Public Safety Code for possessing a firearm while on probation.  It is important to remember that those on supervised probation are typically prohibited from possessing firearms unless a judge specifically allows it.  This is standard condition of probation in Maryland, though a violation would be considered a technical probation violation and not a new offense.  Technical violations of probation carry a presumptive maximum penalty of 15 days in jail, while a violation of this new provision in the Public Safety Code would be a misdemeanor with a 5-year maximum penalty.

House Bill 824 also prohibits a person from obtaining a Maryland wear and carry license if he or she has been convicted of a violation of criminal law section 4-104, which prohibits storing or leaving a loaded firearm in a place where an unsupervised minor could gain access to the firearm, and an injury or death resulted.  If there was no injury the prohibition would only extend to a person convicted of a second or subsequent violation of this provision.  Offenders who receive a conviction for child’s access to firearms after October 1, 2023 will have to wait five years from the date of the conviction to apply for a handgun permit.  The bill also raised the permit fee to $125, up from $75.

Senate Bill 1 received most of the media attention, and will likely continue to create news headlines after it becomes law in October.  We wrote about this bill previously, and the version that passed the General Assembly was not substantially altered from our last post.  This law will have major restrictions on where licensed individuals can possess firearms, including prohibiting possession at schools, concerts, sporting events, organized youth and adult sports leagues and state government buildings.  A violation under this new law would result in a misdemeanor that carries up to 90 days in jail for a first offense, and up to 15 months for each violation thereafter.  Firearm possession is already illegal in federal facilities and buildings in Maryland under federal law regardless if a person holds a Maryland concealed carry permit.

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jaguar-1366978_960_720-300x169Over the past week Prince George’s County Police officers arrested six boys in connection with two separate carjacking incidents.  The boys were also charged with illegal firearm possession after police located ghost guns in their possession.  The first arrest occurred at the end of last week when police located a vehicle that had been carjacked three days earlier.  After making a felony traffic stop, officers located four teenaged boys from Washington D.C. inside the vehicle and also recovered a loaded ghost gun.  All four were arrested and charged with multiple serious crimes, though it appears they will be charged as juveniles due to the fact that they were 15 at the time of the incident.  It is unclear whether the juveniles were released to their parents or remain detained at a secure juvenile facility.

The four boys will  cclappear at the Prince George’s County Circuit Court for their respective trials.  While the cases will start out in the juvenile court, the State may choose to seek a discretionary waiver for some or all of the juveniles.  Maryland law allows a judge to order the transfer of a case to adult court for a 15-year-old defendant if a finding is made that the child is not fit for juvenile rehabilitative measures.  A child under 15 can only be prosecuted in adult court for an offense such as murder that carries life in prison.  Juvenile discretionary waivers are rare, and in all likelihood would not be utilized for a carjacking case unless the juvenile has an extensive history of violence.  Carjacking by definition is a serious offense, but if the facts are especially egregious the Court certainly could consider a discretionary waiver.

Just four days later Prince George’s County officers made yet another carjacking arrest.  The suspects in this case were also juveniles, with one being a 16-year-old from Fort Washington, and the other a 17-year-old from Temple Hills.  Police received a call for an attempted armed carjacking on April 3 at around 1:30 p.m. in District Heights.  When officers arrived, they observed two suspects running from the scene and were ultimately able to take them into custody.  Search incident to arrest revealed that both juveniles were in possession of loaded ghost guns.  In the first three months of 2023 alone 32 juveniles and 19 adults have been arrested for carjacking in Prince George’s County.  This alarming trend

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drink-driving-808790_960_720-300x200A 28-year-old Anne Arundel County man has been charged with multiple criminal violations in addition to being issued four traffic citations for allegedly causing a head-on collision in Lothian earlier this week.  The accident left three family members injured, including 15 and 9-year-old children.  According to Anne Arundel County Police all three of the occupants were treated for life-threatening injuries, while the defendant was uninjured in the crash.  Police investigation revealed that the defendant crossed the center line, which caused his Rav4 to strike a smaller Nissan Versa head on.  Another vehicle then crashed into the Nissan from the rear as a result of the sudden collision.  Police responded to the scene and began a criminal investigation after bystanders informed officers that the driver appeared to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.  The driver then allegedly failed field sobriety tests and was placed under arrest for DUI.  He then agreed to submit to a blood alcohol concentration test at the station in lieu of submitting to a mandatory blood draw. The result of the breath test was .18, which is more than twice the legal limit.

In a normal Maryland DUI or DWI case the defendant is usually charged via citation and released to a friend or family member a short time later.  While police do have the authority to book a defendant into the jail for drunk driving, going to jail for a DUI charge in Maryland is rare outside of Baltimore City.  This case was far from normal due to the severity of the victim’s injuries, and the overall egregious nature of the defendant’s alleged actions.  Most people are aware that causing a death in a traffic accident or boat accident while under the influence can result in criminal charges for homicide by vehicle or vessel or manslaughter.  But the legislature also chose to criminalize causing a serious injury accident while under the influence.  Based on the totality of the circumstances, the defendant was booked and charged with this fairly new criminal violation under §3-211 of the Maryland Criminal Code.  This law makes it a criminal violation to cause life threatening injuries by a motor vehicle or vessel while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.  A first offense for this violation carries up to 3 years in prison for DUI and up to 2 years for DWI.  If a defendant has a prior conviction for impaired driving in Maryland or any other state, the maximum penalty would become 5 years in prison.  The defendant in this case was charged with 3 counts, though he can only be lawfully sentenced on one of the counts.  He was held without bail by the court commissioner and by a District Court judge the next day at bail review.  He is now being held at the Jennifer Road detention center awaiting his trial in March of next year.

Almost all drivers who are charged with drunk driving in Maryland are issued multiple citations, which can be confusing and stressful for someone with no experience dealing with this situation.  In reality, the officers are taught to issue multiple citations, typically for DUI, DWI and DUI pe se (if the defendant tested over the limit), because they do not know which of the counts the State’s Attorney will be able to prove at trial.  Regardless of the number of citations a driver receives in a drunk driving arrest, most will eventually be dismissed by the State at trial or pursuant to a plea.  If a plea agreement is reached, the defendant typically admits to one of the citations and maybe two if the driving pattern is especially alarming to the State.

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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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