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holster-648014__480-300x206The Maryland State Police recently issued an agency-wide memo instructing its employees to continue to uphold the HQL law, which was just declared unconstitutional by a panel of three federal judges last week in Richmond.  Citing the infamous 2022 Supreme Court decision out of New York, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that Maryland’s Handgun Qualification License is overly burdensome and not consistent with historically accepted limitations on firearm purchases.  Gun lobbyists from the NRA hailed the ruling as a major victory, while state officials including the Governor and the Mayor of Baltimore City expressed displeasure with the decision.  When the ruling came down last week the Governor’s Office issued a statement expressing a desire to continue to fight for the HQL, but this week the Attorney General’s Office stated they are weighing their options.  Enforcing the HQL despite the recent ruling may not end up being much of a story, as the decision has yet to become legally binding.  The federal court has not issued a mandate yet and will not do so until 7 days after the 14-day window to request a rehearing has expired.  If the State does not request a rehearing the mandate to strike down the HQL process would go into effect on December 11.  The State could also seek review by the Supreme Court though based on the Bruen ruling out of New York it would be unlikely to prevail.

The Blog will continue to follow this exchange between the courts and a state that is predominantly anti-gun.  Some lawmakers may try to circumvent this federal trend to loosen the state’s gun laws by introducing bills when the legislative session commences in January in Annapolis.  While these bills can sometimes create a few news headlines for attention hungry members of the House or Senate, they will likely be shot down by more experienced members of the judiciary committees.  Local politicians have already tried to circumvent state federal law by enacting county ordinances that restrict handgun possession beyond what state law allows.  A recent opinion in the Montgomery County Circuit Court struck down a county ordinance that prohibited firearm possession within 100 yards of any public or private place of assembly including schools, daycare centers, libraries and businesses.  The ordinance brashly attempted to start the measurement from the edge of the parking lots of these places, which would have restricted firearm possession of a licensed individual while traveling on a state highway.  Another provision of this overturned law attempted to restrict possession of ghost guns by outlawing privately manufactured gun parts without serial numbers.  Once again, this attempt to circumvent state and federal law was struck down by a judge for being overly broad and more restricted than state law.

January is shaping up to be an interesting month in Annapolis, and we will be providing updates on all the criminal law developments, including those aimed at banning ghost guns and making it more difficult to wear, transport and carry a firearm.  If you or a loved one has been charged with a firearm crime, contact Maryland gun possession lawyer Benjamin Herbst anytime for a free consultation.  Benjamin vigorously defends adults and juveniles in all Maryland courts from the Eastern Shore to Western Maryland.  He has won jury trials for offenses such as possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, use of a firearm in a crime of violence and possession of a firearm by a minor.  Benjamin also specializes in warrant recall motions, bail review hearings for gun offenses and domestic crimes and is an experienced Maryland violation of probation attorney.  Contact Benjamin anytime for a free consultation at 410-207-2598 and learn what defenses may apply to your case.

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pistol-1350484_1280-300x200Roughly ten years ago Maryland lawmakers passed the Firearm Safety Act of 2013.  For the last decade anyone who wished to purchase a handgun in Maryland was forced to apply to the State Police for Handgun Qualification License or HQL.  There were several requirements for obtaining a HQL, with the first being eligibility to own and possess any type of firearm.  In Maryland this meant the applicant must have been at least 21 years old and have no prior convictions for an offense that carried a maximum penalty of two years or more.  Additionally, all Maryland HQL applicants must have completed a four-hour gun safety course that included firing an actual round and passing a background check.  The background check mandated that the applicant be fingerprinted, and any prior criminal or domestic violence related cases that show up were be considered.  There is no statute of limitations for prior convictions, as we have seen applicants denied for 40 and even 50-year-old criminal convictions.   Once the State Police approved a person for an HQL, he or she would be permitted to purchase a handgun provided the appropriate federal ATF forms are also filled out properly.  In Maryland an HQL did not give a purchaser the right to carry or transport a handgun or any firearm for that matter.  A person who is caught driving with or carrying a firearm without a concealed carry permit will likely be arrested and charged regardless of whether they held a valid HQL.  Possessing an HQL potentially helped in mitigation, but it was never a defense to a firearm possession charge.

Maryland Handgun Qualification Licenses have been much easier to obtain than wear and carry permits, but the 2022 Supreme Court decision in Bruen drastically turned the tide.  These days in Maryland a large percentage of HQL holders were able to obtain a carry permit if they completed additional gun education and safety requirements.  Lately we have received more calls about HQL denials than wear and carry permit denials, but as of this week we may never field a call about a HQL denial again.  On Tuesday a federal appeals court struck down the entire HQL policy, and specifically called out the background check requirement that has forced law abiding gun purchasers to wait a minimum of one month before being able to obtain a handgun.  The appeals court opined that the state failed to demonstrate any historical requirement that a citizen receive advance permission to purchase a firearm in Maryland.  The court stated a person should be able to purchase a firearm if they feel they are in danger and being forced to wait 30 days or more is unacceptable.  The wait time is exactly what supporters of the HQL policy have lauded as an effective tool in preventing gun violence.  The Governor and the Mayor of Baltimore have expressed displeasure over the ruling, while the gun lobby is celebrating a major victory.  Maryland is one of a dozen or so states that require gun purchasers to pass strict background checks, and this number could be zero within a year if the Supreme Court agrees with this decision out of the Richmond federal court.

The Blog will continue to follow this story as it will generate a ton of attention over the next few months.  The legislature begins its session in January and there are bound to be reactive attempts to keep Maryland a strict gun law state.  Federal courts can intervene when laws are deemed to restrict the Second Amendment, but the courts are generally not able to interfere with the harsh punishments that Maryland provides for gun offenders.  Anyone caught carrying or transporting a firearm without a license in Maryland still faces arrest and potential jail time depending on where the offense took place.  This includes federal property such as the NIH, CMS and the various military bases in Maryland where even state carry permits are not valid.  With respect to state cases, Prince George’s County, Baltimore City and Charles County often attempt to hand down the harshest punishments for gun offenses, but each case is different and there is always a legal argument that can be made in a gun case.  If you or a loved one has been charged with a gun offense contact Maryland criminal defense lawyer Benjamin Herbst anytime for a free consultation.  Benjamin specializes in Maryland gun crimes such as wear, transport and carry, possession by a prohibited person, minor in possession of a firearm and possession of a firearm at a federal facility.  He is an experienced juvenile gun lawyer and has successfully argued for the dismissal of adult gun charges in state and federal court.  Contact Benjamin anytime for a free consultation at 410-207-2598 and learn how you may be able to fight your gun charge.

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annapolis-237078_960_720-300x195The 2024 Maryland legislative session is roughly two months away, but there are already signs that juvenile justice will be a hot topic when lawmakers report to Annapolis in January.  The Maryland House Judiciary Committee has already held multiple juvenile justice fact-finding meetings in advance of the legislative session and may hold others before the end of this year.  The meetings come in response to increasing outcry by the public, law enforcement and State’s Attorney’s Offices.  Many have been critical of recent changes to juvenile justice policies that limit who the police can arrest, detain and interrogate.  While there is no proven correlation between juvenile justice reforms and a rise in crime, many believe reform has directly contributed to skyrocketing carjackings, shootings and violent assaults committed by those under the age of 18.

One of the most impactful juvenile justice reforms has virtually eliminated juvenile interrogations in Maryland.  Anytime a juvenile suspect is arrested the police are required to allow the suspect to speak to an attorney before answering questions.  Many people are under the impression that police must seek permission from parents or guardians before speaking to a juvenile suspect in custody, but this was never the law in Maryland.  Police were simply required to read Miranda warnings to the suspect before engaging in an interrogation like they would with an adult suspect.  This presents numerous issues regarding a free, knowing and voluntary waiver of Fifth Amendment rights that is required for statements to be admissible.  It is argued that juveniles rarely understand the rights they are waiving, and thus cannot make a legally sufficient waiver.  This is especially true when the juveniles are under duress and face intimidation by law enforcement.  The legislature agreed, and now juveniles are rarely if ever advised to make statements.  Criminal interrogations were once the strongest law enforcement tool to locate co-defendants in juvenile cases and to solve past and even future crimes.  A large percentage of juvenile crimes involve multiple co-defendants, as teenagers spend most of their time out of the home with friends or classmates.  Since the summer, police officers investigating juvenile crimes have been forced to rely solely on evidence gathered at the crime scene, and through talking to witnesses that agree to cooperate.  As such, it’s no surprise the reforms have been blamed for the increased amount of felony juvenile criminal activity in Maryland.

Another recent reform that could face further scrutiny is the law prohibiting police from arresting a juvenile under the age of 13 for a non-violent crime.  We previously posted on an 11-year-old that was suspected of stealing multiple cars in Baltimore City and Baltimore County.  Critics of this provision believe any type of criminal activity can ultimately lead to violence, and not prosecuting young juvenile defendants for serious crimes establishes a harmful precedent.  The Blog will continue to follow juvenile justice policy as we head toward the next legislative session.  Rising juvenile crime rates will be a top priority for lawmakers as soon as they report to Annapolis, but it is unclear whether any of the reforms will be walked backed after just one year in effect.

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hammer-719066_960_720-300x225On October 1 the Maryland Redeem Act became state law, and now thousands of individuals can file to expunge prior criminal convictions that were once considered permanent.  The Redeem Act is a major breakthrough for those who have struggled to advance in the workplace, obtain professional licenses and secure loans or apartment leases.  It provides an avenue for prior defendants to apply for expungement in numerous types of charges, including felony drug cases.  In addition to adding more charges to the list of qualifying offenses, the law also shortens the wait time necessary to apply for expungement.  The relevant portion of the Redeem Act is codified in the Criminal Procedure section 10-110 of the Maryland statutes, though the section lists the crimes by statute number and not name.  It is advisable to have your charging document handy when checking to see if your prior offense qualifies, or you can consult with a Maryland criminal defense lawyer.

In this post we’ll go through some of the major changes to the expungement laws, but for a more detailed analysis about your particular situation, feel free to call Maryland expungement lawyer Benjamin Herbst anytime at 410-207-2598.  The Herbst Firm handles expungements and petitions for early expungement based on good cause.  It’s safe to say that the drug laws have been impacted the most by the Redeem Act, as convictions for possession with intent to distribute are handed out like candy in the courthouses across the state.  Many a defendant has accepted a guilty plea to this crime to get out of jail or simply to close the case and move on with life, only to have it severely hinder personal growth in the future.  If the criminal defense attorney on the case did not successfully argue for probation before judgment or if a timely motion to modify was not filed within 90 days, the conviction used to last a lifetime.  Though as of October 1, there is hope for anyone with an old PWID or distribution charge, as an application to expunge may be filed 7 years after a time served disposition or 7 years after probation or parole has ended.  Anyone with a marijuana distribution or PWID conviction can file for expungement 3 years after the disposition or the end of probation or parole if applicable.

Felony theft and burglary may be expunged after 10 years, but other felony charges have yet to be added to the list of crimes that are eligible.  This includes motor vehicle theft, which is not one of the offenses that is currently expungable under Maryland law.  Gun crimes have also not been added to the list of expungable offense.  On the positive side, misdemeanor offenses such as CDS possession not marijuana, burglary in the 4th degree, malicious destruction of property, disorderly conduct, prostitution, obstructing and hindering and various others are expungable after 5 years of the conclusion of the case or the end of probation/parole.  Prior convictions for domestically related crimes such as second degree assault and violation of a protective order are not eligible for 15 years.  If assault in the second degree or protective order violation convictions were not marked as domestically related, they would be eligible after 7 years for assault and 5 years for violation of a protective order.

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Gun-evidence-box-300x225Montgomery County Police recently arrested a 17-year-old high school student for various firearm offenses after he was found in possession of a loaded 9mm handgun on the public school’s campus.  The student, who lives in Bethesda, was charged with possession of a firearm by a minor, possession of a loaded handgun and possession of a dangerous weapon on school property.  School security was tipped off by a fellow student, who apparently observed an object that looked like a gun in the defendant’s backpack while in the restroom.  Montgomery County police officers confronted the suspect and ultimately performed a search that yielded the handgun.  This all occurred around the same time that police were responding to two false bomb threats that locked other county schools down.  Upon being arrested, the student was taken to the Montgomery County Detention Center and was held without bail.  As a detained juvenile, his bail will likely be reviewed in two weeks if he is still in custody.  In the meantime, he will be held in a secure juvenile facility.   We are unable to track the progress of this case because the judiciary seals all juvenile cases from public view, but depending on his record and his representation, he may have a good chance at eventually facing trial in the juvenile court and avoiding an adult criminal record.

The student was charged as an adult because Maryland juvenile courts do not have original jurisdiction over gun crimes committed by defendants 16 or older.  This includes all firearm offenses from misdemeanor possession of a firearm by a minor to felonies such as armed robbery and possession of a firearm in a drug trafficking crime.  Other crimes that start in adult court include first degree assault, vehicle and boat offenses, robbery with a dangerous weapon and felony sex offenses.  These cases may be transferred to juvenile court upon a motion that must be filed within 30 days.  While a transfer motion is pending a detained juvenile defendant shall be held in a juvenile facility unless there is no space, and the Court finds the juvenile to be a danger.  If the reverse waiver transfer motion is granted, the juvenile will immediately be scheduled for a detention hearing and may be released to his or her parents at that point.

Minors who are charged with gun offenses including misdemeanor unlawful firearm possession can, and often are, held in jail without bail in Maryland, which makes it extremely important to retain an experienced juvenile criminal defense lawyer.  Judges from certain jurisdictions such as Baltimore City and Prince George’s County are less inclined to release juveniles with firearm charges due to the ongoing gun violence in the Baltimore and Washington D.C. metro areas.  If your son or daughter has been arrested for a gun offense anywhere in the state, contact Maryland juvenile lawyer Benjamin Herbst 7 days a week for a free consultation.  Benjamin specializes in juvenile gun crimes and represents clients in all jurisdictions from the Eastern Shore to Western Maryland.  He has extensive experience representing juveniles charged with minor in possession of a firearm, robbery and first-degree assault.  Benjamin has obtained the release of clients at numerous juvenile bail reviews and has prevailed in reverse waiver hearings for serious felony offenses such as carjacking and armed robbery.  He fights tooth and nail to protect his client’s futures from intake hearing to trial and to make sure they are home with their families and not placed in a state program.  Contact Benjamin anytime for a free consultation at 410-207-2598 to discuss the defenses that may be available in your child’s case.

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22186_klauandlauf-300x225Three young men were recently arrested by Prince George’s County police officers following a traffic stop of an SUV that had been flagged by law enforcement for criminal involvement.  The driver of the SUV was arrested on the scene, while the two others were arrested shortly thereafter.  After arresting the driver, police sought and received a warrant to search his District Heights apartment.  During the search police of the apartment and an additional home, police found a trove of stolen merchandise totaling over $10,000.  The merchandise linked the defendant and his co-defendants to as many as 10 different thefts that occurred from September 13 to October 1.  Police apparently discovered that the group was offering the merchandise for sale online and through personal referrals.  This theft bust puts just a tiny dent in what has become a shoplifting epidemic over the last couple of years.  The situation in the Washington D.C. metro area has become so dire that some stores are declining to stock frequently stolen items such as detergent and cosmetics.  The issue is not limited to Washington and Baltimore however, as retailers have suffered billions of dollars of losses in recent years, as the so called “shrink” numbers continue to rise.

Police will apparently continue to investigate the trio of defendants, and additional charges may be forthcoming.  For now, the driver, a 19-year-old from Suitland, is facing the brunt of the charges that include 14 counts of theft related offenses from the aforementioned ten different incidents.  Many of the incidents are alleged to have occurred in succession, with charges being filed on eight consecutive days from September 13 to September 20.  Eight of the 14 charges are felonies, including a catch-all theft scheme charge of $1,500 to $25,000.  The driver was released on a $5,000 bond and is due back in court in the middle of November.  It does not appear that he has any adult prior convictions in Maryland, and his juvenile record is not accessible by the public.  The oldest co-defendant is a 26-year-old also from Suitland, who has additional pending theft charges out of Queen Anne’s County, while the youngest defendant, an 18-year-old, is facing two theft charges from an alleged incident on September 13.  The Blog will continue to follow these cases and other similar theft schemes and may post a follow up article in the future as the cases progress.

If you or a loved one is facing theft charges or any other criminal charges in Maryland contact Prince George’s County criminal defense lawyer Benjamin Herbst anytime for a free consultation.  Benjamin has successfully defended hundreds of clients in theft charges ranging from shoplifting to felony theft over $100,000.  He is also an experienced juvenile theft lawyer who fights to protect the futures of all his clients.  Benjamin routinely takes on complicated fraud and employee theft cases, as well as embezzlement and misconduct in office.  He is licensed to practice in the federal courts of Greenbelt and Baltimore City, where he specializes in theft of government property and other federal charges.  Maryland theft lawyer Benjamin has defended clients in every jurisdiction from Worcester County to Allegany County and is available 7 days a week for his clients.  He has locations in Anne Arundel County and Baltimore City and can meet at a convenient location in the Eastern Shore for clients facing charges in Salisbury, Ocean City, and Queen Anne’s, Dorchester and Talbot Counties.  All clients are provided with cell phone access to Benjamin for off hours access, as we firmly believe constant communication is essential to providing excellent Maryland criminal defense representation.  Contact Benjamin at 410-207-2598 to learn what defenses may be available in your case and to start preparing to take on the state or federal government.

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alcohol-beer-197x300Most of the criminal justice bills that are either signed into law by the Governor or otherwise pass the General Assembly become law on October 1 each year.  The exceptions are major policy changes such as the legalization of marijuana, which typically are planned farther in advance.  Marijuana legalization stole all the headlines on July 1, but there were still a fair number of laws that went into effect last week.  One such law was a provision of the Natural Resources article, which adds enhanced punishments for boating under the influence (BUI) and in some cases for driving under the influence or driving while impaired.  The new law focuses on repeat offenders, but not in the traditional sense, as it aims to enhance the punishment for boating offenders with a record of drunk driving and driving offenders with a history of boating under the influence.

The State Boat Act already has provisions that punish repeat offenders; a first offense for boating under the influence carries up to 1 year in jail, while a second offense carries up to 2 years.  A third or subsequent conviction for BUI carries up 3 years in prison.  Boating while impaired, which is a lesser offense than boating under the influence carries a 60-day maximum sentence for a first conviction, and a 1-year maximum for a second or subsequent.  These penalties are similar to the drunk driving laws in transportation article 21-902.  The new Natural Resources Law will now count a defendant’s DUI or DWI convictions as prior offenses in impaired boating cases.  This means that a person with a prior drunk driving conviction could face up to 2 years in prison for a first boating under the influence charge.  The new law also allows the State to consider prior boating convictions under the State Boat Law when recommending a sentence for a DUI or DWI case.  Subsequent offender enhanced penalties for boating under the influence only apply if a defendant was convicted of the prior offense within the last 5 years, and probation before judgment (PBJ) does not count as a conviction.  Also, in order for the enhanced penalties to apply the State must provide notice to the defendant at least 30 days prior to trial of its intent to seek subsequent offender enhancements.

Natural resources offenses such as boating under the influence can lead to serious consequences including a permanent criminal conviction, jail time and the loss of one’s privilege to operate a vessel in Maryland.  Many boating offenses have extremely harsh consequences compared to similar traffic violations.  For example, a second offense for speeding on a state waterway can carry up to 30 days in jail.  Boating offenses involving alcohol or drugs are taken extremely seriously by the State and by judges, which makes it all the more important to retain an experienced lawyer before you go to court.  If you have been charged with BUI or any violation of the State Boat Act contact Maryland criminal defense lawyer Benjamin Herbst anytime at 410-207-2598.  Benjamin has successfully defended over 500 DUI, BUI and DWI charges and has the experience and dedication to fight for the best outcome in your case.  Benjamin has locations in Anne Arundel County and Baltimore City, and accepts cases in all jurisdictions in Maryland.  He has won DUI trials in Worcester County, which has the highest conviction rate in the state, as well as numerous other counties and is standing by to fight for you.  Benjamin is also an experienced federal DUI lawyer for those who have received citations on 295, Fort Meade and the various other parkways and military/federal installations in Maryland.  He represents adults and juveniles in all drug and alcohol violations including open container and public consumption citations, and also specializes in representing out of state defendants who are traveling through Maryland when stopped.

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police-780322_640-300x200Anne Arundel County Police have charged two men with multiple criminal and traffic offenses in connection with a hit and run that left a state trooper seriously injured.  According to reports, police attempted to conduct a traffic stop of a Ford F-150 in Pasadena at around 12:30 in the afternoon for driving without a front license plate.  The driver of the pickup failed to stop, and instead allegedly attempted to flee the scene.  During the act of fleeing from police, the driver crashed into an unmarked State Police Vehicle and injured the trooper inside.  The injuries were serious enough to require the trooper to be transported to the hospital via ambulance.  Police eventually located the driver and a man alleged to be the passenger at the driver’s home in Glen Burnie.  The passenger was arrested for drug possession and making a false statement to a law enforcement officer, and the driver was issued more than a dozen traffic citations including fleeing or eluding police, driving without a license, driving on a revoked license and reckless driving.  Both men have yet to receive their trial dates for their charges, and both may have more serious issues on the horizon than traffic citations and misdemeanor drug and false statement charges.

At the time of the hit and run, the driver of the truck already had a court case scheduled at the Glen Burnie courthouse for driving on a suspended license, which probably explains why he was attempting to avoid being pulled over int first place.  The prior case is scheduled in early November, and you can bet the State will bring up the recent charges if the case is not postponed again.  In addition, the driver may also face additional, more serious charges for leaving the scene of an accident resulting in serious bodily injury.  Leaving the scene of an accident or hit and run is already a serious traffic offense that carries up to 60 days in jail if there was property damage and up to 1 year in jail if someone was injured.  The severity of this offense increases dramatically if the victim suffered serious bodily injury and the driver knew or reasonably should have known the accident might result in serious bodily injury.  Leaving the scene of an accident with serious bodily injury is a felony with a five-year maximum penalty.  Despite the fact that the driver was already issued multiple citations related to the accident and the fleeing, the State could always add additional charges by filing a criminal information or the police may choose to file a statement of charges.  Since this offense requires the State to prove the victim actually suffered serious bodily injury, this type of charge would not typically be initiated until later when medical records can be obtained.  In situations where there is a fatality a driver could be charged with a 10-year felony for failing to remain at the scene.

The passenger was actually arrested at the driver’s house and is being held without bond at the Anne Arundel County Detention Center on three separate cases.  He is a Tier 3 sex offender with a lifetime registry requirement, and was charged with failing to register.  The failure to register allegation likely triggered a violation of his Anne Arundel County Circuit Court probation for two counts of second degree assault.  He then failed to appear at the district court for the failure to register case and had two bench warrants, one a violation of probation bench warrant and the other a failure to appear bench warrant.  What likely happened is that police attempted to identify the passenger upon locating the two suspects in the hit and run, and the passenger gave a fake name to avoid being arrested.  When police eventually found out his identity, they arrested him and found CDS on his person.  Thus, the two new charges to go along with the two outstanding bench warrants.  The passenger was ultimately held without bail on the new charge due to his prior FTA and his outstanding VOP.

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technology-2500010__480-300x200The Juvenile Interrogation Act, which prevents police from questioning juveniles without first providing an attorney has its critics, but it is not the only element of juvenile justice reform to come under fire recently.  Other provisions of the recent reforms include the abolishment of criminal charges for children under the age of 13 in non-violent offenses.  This seems like a policy everyone could get behind, and in reality, juveniles under the age of 13 who are charged will almost always have their cases resolved at the intake phase.  State’s Attorney’s Offices do not make a habit of filing juvenile petitions against 11 and 12-year-olds unless the allegations are particularly shocking and/or violent.  So, if the State will rarely, if ever, prosecute a child under 13 in a non-violent offense, then why would there be any critics of a law that bars arresting and charging them in the first place?  The answer appears to be the skyrocketing number of motor vehicle thefts.

Motor vehicle thefts have been on the rise in most Maryland jurisdictions, though in Baltimore County the numbers have truly taken off.  The county police reported a 175% increase in motor vehicle thefts over the past year, which means the number of victims has almost tripled.  In Baltimore City there were almost 1,000 motor vehicle thefts in the month of May alone.  This number is about triple the number of thefts in May of 2022, which is in line with the county numbers.  Many of these offenses are committed by juveniles, but now the police are starting to see children as young as 11 being the culprits.  Not only do the young children know there will be no consequences if they are caught, older juveniles are taking notice as well.  Police have described incidents where older juveniles entice the younger ones to commit the thefts and drive the stolen vehicles so that neither will face retribution.   County police allegedly linked the same 11-year-old to as many as 17 different auto thefts in the area around Dundalk and Essex, but have been unable to do anything about it due to the new laws protecting minors.

The argument against the juvenile reform is that there will be no intervention with teeth for these young children, and that they will learn at a young age that there are no consequences for committing crime.  On the other hand, the department of juvenile services and the court system will still be able to intervene starting at age 13 in non-violent offenses such as theft.  It is debatable whether the law barring children under 13 from being charged has done more harm than good.  In reality there are logical arguments to be made on both sides and the right answer is somewhere in the middle.  Still, it would not surprise us if both sides of the spectrum continue to cry foul to the legislature, and some sort of modification to juvenile justice reform passes next spring.

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prison-300x201Last year Maryland lawmakers passed the Child Interrogation Protection Act, which requires law enforcement to provide detained juveniles access to a lawyer before being questioned.  All detained suspects are afforded the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney under the United States Constitution, but juvenile defendants are especially vulnerable to being pressured into the waiving their right to remain silent and their right to counsel.  Prior to the law passing, juvenile defendants were still required to be read their Miranda rights before any custodial interrogation could begin, though it became increasingly clear that many did not understand their rights and were convinced there was no other option than to speak to police.  In response to an overwhelming number of false confessions in juvenile cases, lawmakers voted in 2022 to require police to put detained juveniles into contact with a lawyer before commencing questioning.  Per the new law, which went into effect almost one year ago, it is a lawyer, either in person or over the phone, who must advise a juvenile of his or her Miranda rights and not a police officer.  Violations of this law would lead to any statements being suppressed, but it appears some law enforcement agencies are undeterred, and continue to press juveniles for information before a lawyer can be reached.

According to reports, there were at least ten incidents where detained juveniles did not speak to lawyers prior to questioning during the month of July in Baltimore City.  There is logical suspicion that dozens more juveniles were questioned without speaking to an attorney over the summer in Baltimore City.  Violations are also suspected to have occurred in Anne Arundel County, Montgomery County, Allegany County and Garrett County.  Law enforcement may feel empowered to ignore the Child Interrogation Protection Act because a number of elected State’s Attorneys have publicly bashed the law for hindering their officer’s ability to solve crimes.  The Baltimore City SAO called the new law a barrier to solving crime and the Prince George’s County State’s Attorney described the law as a problem due to juveniles being less inclined to offer essential information to solve crimes.  The Wicomico County State’s Attorney has also been highly critical of the law, which specifically limits police to solve crimes that involve gangs and multiple co-defendants.

Juvenile crimes are unique in that they often occur with multiple witnesses and are routinely committed by numerous individuals.  Young people rarely do things alone, and therefore when a crime is committed there is usually a trail of evidence.  While police can ultimately subpoena cell phones and social media accounts for this evidence, when time is of the essence there is nothing quicker (or easier) than a scared young detained suspect spilling his or her guts to the police.  The problem is that juveniles are roughly three times more likely to give false confessions to adults, and we simply cannot stand by and watch as police shove a piece of paper in front of a 15-year-old for a signature or give a 20 second speech and assume there is a free and knowing waiver of the right to remain silent and the right to counsel.
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