The 2023 Maryland legislative session is underway, and there are currently dozens of criminal law bills that are being debated in Annapolis. Guns, marijuana and juvenile justice reform are three of the main issues this year, but there are numerous other proposals that could significantly alter the way crimes are policed and prosecuted. One of the issues at the forefront of media coverage is increasing the penalty for Maryland’s main gun possession law. Wearing, transporting or carrying a handgun currently has a maximum penalty of three years incarceration and a $2,500 fine upon conviction. This offense also carries a 30-day mandatory jail sentence that becomes 90 days if the offense occurred on public school property. The mandatory jail term is rarely imposed though, as it is not normal practice for the State to file a notice to seek mandatory incarceration in these cases. Additionally, a judge may grant probation before judgment, which effectively erases any requirement to impose mandatory jail. For comparison, probation before judgment is not available to anyone found guilty of possession of a firearm by a prohibited person or by a convicted felon, so the mandatory time is actually mandatory. Some lawmakers and the Baltimore City State’s Attorney are lobbying to increase the maximum penalty for possession of a handgun to 5 years of incarceration, which would mirror the maximum penalty for possession of a firearm by a minor under the public safety article.
There does not seem to be an overly persuasive argument to increase the penalty for wear, transport or carry of a handgun to 5 years. Anyone with more than a minor criminal record who is found with a gun will likely be charged with possession by a prohibited person and thus face a mandatory 5-year sentence. Additionally, anyone who uses a handgun in a crime will face a significantly harsher punishment for other offenses such as use of a handgun in a crime of violence. Those with minor or no criminal record will not and should not serve anywhere near the current maximum of 3 years. If uniformity is the ultimate goal, lawmakers should look to decrease the penalty for minor in possession of a firearm to 3 years rather than seek to add more time, which ultimately is only used as leverage in plea bargaining. In reality it’s much easier for a lawmakers in this current climate to say they fought for tougher guns laws, even if said laws have literally no effect on crime deterrence and public safety.
Lawmakers are also seeking to change laws related to certain sex crimes, with one proposal expanding the definition of a 4th degree sexual offense for persons in a position of authority. Under Maryland law it is considered a sex offense in the 4thdegree if a school employee such as a teacher, coach or administrator to have a sexual relationship or have sexual contact with a minor who is a student at the same school. This is a strict liability offense that applies specifically to students who are 16 or 17, and thus past the age of consent in Maryland. If the bill passes it would also subject volunteers, interns or basically any adult in a supervisory role with an institution, program or activity to criminal prosecution for having sexual contact with a minor who is a participant of the institution, program or activity. Under Maryland law, 4th degree sexual offense carries a maximum jail sentence of 1 year, but could potentially lead to mandatory registration as a tier 1 sex offender for 15 years.
Other bills include increasing the penalty for visual surveillance with prurient intent and for misdemeanor animal cruelty if the act or omission leads to the animal being euthanized. The Blog will follow all impactful criminal law bills and will post follow up articles as the legislative session progresses. Benjamin Herbst is a Maryland gun lawyer who handles wear, transport and carry cases as well as possession of a firearm by a disqualified person. He also specializes in defending sex crimes such as 4th degree sexual offense, rape and visual surveillance with prurient intent. Additionally, the Maryland animal cruelty lawyers at the Herbst Firm are experienced with misdemeanor and felony aggravated animal cruelty charges, and are standing by at 410-207-2598 to offer a free consultation about your case.
Maryland Legislature, mgaleg.maryland.gov.