Baltimore Sun: Top Maryland prosecutor ‘crying wolf’ on drug offenders

Many people convicted of drug offenses have not committed violent crimes, like murder or armed robbery. Most are low-level offenders who wouldn’t be in prison at all were it not for the difference in sentencing for crack cocaine offenses versus powder cocaine offenses.

As the Baltimore Sun reports, Maryland’s top federal prosecutor is “crying wolf” over a projected wave of so-called violent offenders flooding the state (after being released) under a new drug law that changes punishment for those convicted of selling crack cocaine – up until recently it was much harsher than it was for those convicted of selling powder cocaine – leading commentators to charge racial bias (those convicted of using or selling crack tend to be black, while those convicted of using or selling powder tend to be white).

Rather than crying wolf, as the Baltimore Sun argues, prosecutors should look at the conditions that put low-level offenders behind bars in the first place – federal prosecutors who were gunning to convict people of drug offenses that involved crack cocaine and tougher prison sentences.

Source: The Baltimore Sun, “Crack and the courts,” 11/30/11

Lassie, Jolly Ranchers and Maryland drug charges

There is no question that drug charges involving cocaine are generally more serious – depending on the facts of the case – especially when it comes to production and distribution. In one recent case, a 31-year-old Edgewood, Maryland, man has been sentenced to a decade behind bars on charges of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute cocaine.

As the Dagger reports, law enforcement authorities intercepted phone calls between the 31-year-old and a co-conspirator, which were used as evidence (the men referred to the jolly rancher and the lassie, nicknames for crack and powder, respectively) as well as tailed the men to observe a meeting “consistent with a narcotics transaction.”

There were several agencies involved in the arrests of these two men, from the Drug Enforcement Administration to the Maryland State Police.

The man’s co-conspirator was also found guilty; he distributed a mere 28 grams of crack and more than 500 grams of powder cocaine. The difference is interesting and might have something to do with the disparity in punishment for crimes involving crack and those crimes involving powder cocaine.

Up until the recent revision to the law, the penalties for crack cocaine were much worse than for those for powder cocaine.

Attorneys get into trouble, too

A 33-year-old Baltimore lawyer was recently busted for drug charges after speeding in his silver Honda Accord and getting pulled over. As Edward Marshall reports for The Journal, the man refused several times to obey the instructions of law enforcement: he told officers that he didn’t need to provide proof of insurance, he refused to get out of the car, he tried to close the car door after he got out.

But after he laid a hand on the officer’s shoulder in his attempt to close the door, the officer grabbed his arm, brought him around to the back of the car, and cuffed him.

The police then searched the vehicle and found drugs and drug paraphernalia, including marijuana, evidence of crack cocaine, and other controlled substances. The discovery led to possession and distribution charges, along with obstructing an officer and possessing a deadly weapon (he had a wooden club and metal object under the seat).

The man is said to have posted bail and was released, scheduled for a court appearance that he has now failed to show up for.

Avoid jail for smoking marijuana? It’s possible

According to some lawmakers – and Maryland criminal defense attorneys would agree – jail time just isn’t good policy for those who are arrested for certain misdemeanors, including the drug offense of smoking marijuana.

But the proposed legislation making its way through lawmakers’ hands is a “moving target,” as Aaron C. Davis and Dan Morse report for the Washington Post, given how often it has been added to and revised.

The problem in getting this legislation to a vote (as one prosecutor said, “It didn’t have to be this complicated”) comes from strong opposition on both sides of the table.

Davis and Morse report that the Maryland high court ruled that people arrested and brought before a commissioner in booking should have legal representation before going to jail, which prompted the legislature to look into not sending people to booking and jail in the first place.

In turn, lawmakers have looked into what sort of crimes would merit a citation (with the demand to show up for a court date) rather than an arrest and jail time.

Among the misdemeanor crimes is smoking marijuana.

On one hand, people worry that law enforcement won’t have sufficient discretion to figure out the identity of a suspect and decide whether or not jail is the right call. There are those who believe that Marylanders will “get away” with serious crimes.

On the other, there are a lot of people who are arrested, and not everyone should find themselves behind bars, especially if the goal is to “reduce the stress on the system,” as one lawmaker said.

Source: Proposed Maryland legislation could be the ticket out of jail

DEA bans common chemicals in designer drug bath salts

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has announced that it will move to ban three chemicals that are commonly found in a designer drug sold as bath salts. The ban will be put in place in about a month and will make bath salts products containing MDPV, methylone or mephedrone illegal to make, distribute, sell or possess. Most bath salts products are believed to carry one or more of these substances.

The designer drugs are synthetic equivalents to meth or cocaine. They are readily available in convenience stores or online, and people sometimes use them as legal alternatives to illegal drugs that will not show on drug tests. Thirty states have so far made some chemicals found in the designer drugs illegal and now it will be illegal in Maryland to sell or possess these drugs under federal law.

Health officials and law enforcement officials have expressed concern over increasing reports of people committing suicide or violent crimes while under the influence of synthetic drugs. Rising reports of people becoming violently ill or dying after taking the drugs have also raised concerns. One problem is that the synthetic drugs’ chemical make-up can be highly variable, which could increase the risk of an overdose.

Federal and state authorities have been trying to figure out how to keep up with the manufacture and use of designer drugs in an effort to crack down on the drugs. If the drugs are specifically made and sold for the purposes of human consumption in order to mimic the effects of already illegal drugs and with no other purpose, they are technically also illegal under the Federal Analog Act. There have not been many charges brought under this federal law because it can be difficult to prove a seller’s intent.

Source: Star Tribune, “DEA clamps down on synthetic drugs,” Larry Oakes, Sept. 8, 2011

Felicia ‘Snoop’ Pearson pleads guilty to drug conspiracy charge

Felicia “Snoop” Pearson, who played a drug gang member with the same nickname on the TV series, “The Wire,” has pleaded guilty to a drug conspiracy charge. Pearson was charged with the drug crime during a crackdown called “Operation Usual Suspects.” Last March, 64 people were arrested in Baltimore for drug crimes. Pearson was accused of conspiring to distribute heroin. She allegedly told two associates that they could keep drugs and money in her apartment.

Pearson was not suspected to have a large role in the illegal drug operation so she was allowed to enter a guilty plea in exchange for a seven-year suspended sentence. She was also given credit for time already served. Pearson will have to go to jail for the remainder of the seven-year sentence if she violates the terms of her probation in the next three years.

Pearson says that she plans to move to Los Angeles to continue with her acting career and to help her stay out of trouble. Pearson was born to parents addicted to crack and was in foster care before being adopted. She sold drugs before she was a teenager, and killed a fellow teenage girl when she was fourteen during a fight. Pearson went to jail for second-degree murder. She sold drugs after getting out of jail until she got a job on “The Wire.”

Pearson’s attorney said that his client fell back in with her old crowd after the show ended. He said that the people she was associated with who were arrested for selling heroin had essentially raised her when she was a kid on the streets. Pearson’s plea will allow her to travel to other states to work on her career. She said she would have been found not guilty, but she wanted to move on with her life, rather than undergo a trial.

Source: BBC, “The Wire’s Felicia ‘Snoop’ Pearson in guilty drugs plea,” Aug. 10, 2011

More teens hitting the pipe and bong these days

More teens are “toking up” these days, according to the Partnership for a Drug Free America. The Partnership characterizes the behavior as “unhealthy,” but just as unhealthy is what happens to a young person caught in the criminal justice system, facing a drug possession charge for marijuana or prescription drugs.

“Parents are talking about cocaine and heroin, things that scare them,” says the man who heads up the Partnership, which has just released a study indicating a trend in use of marijuana among teens. “Parents are not talking about prescription drugs and marijuana. They can’t wink and nod. They need to be stressing the message that this behavior is unhealthy.”

In a story written by the Associated Press and published online by the Washington Post, roughly 1.5 million teens are “toking up” 20 or more times per month these days. And across the board, the Partnership is reporting hefty percentage increases in marijuana usage, from casual to habitual.

Some people view experimentation with some types of drugs as a “right of passage” for teens. Others are strictly against it. Still, across the nation, you’re finding an increasing push toward legalizing marijuana for medical purposes, and those who support full legalization for all purposes often argue that marijuana is no worse – and perhaps even better – than drinking alcohol.

Yet young people facing drug charges will have trouble finding a job with a criminal record, for starters. That’s not a good way to start out, which is why teens deserve a strong defense.

Source: Survey finds long decline in teen pot use has reversed

Maryland considers ban on bath salts designer drug: Part 1

The designer drug, bath salts, is illegal in 28 states with more planning bans, including Maryland. The drug contains the chemicals MDPV and mephedrone and is sold as bath salts in convenience stores, head shops and online with the label “not for human consumption.” The designer drug is not specifically illegal under federal law, but the federal Analog Act is being used to pursue charges in some designer drug cases, usually where people died from using the drugs.

The Analog Act prohibits the sale of drugs that mimic the effects of already-illegal drugs. Law enforcement pursuing cases under this law would have to prove that the drug was knowingly being sold with the purpose of human consumption. Some clerks of stores that sell the drugs have been charged with drug offenses under federal law after explaining to undercover police officers how to use the drug to get high, according to a recent article in The New York Times.

According to The New York Times, from January to June this year there were 3,470 calls made to poison control center across the country related to bad reactions to bath salts. Some of the worse cases involve people committing suicide or violent crimes while in an extremely agitated, paranoid or psychotic state. People can experience extreme agitation and require sedation at the hospital, and some have reported continued paranoia for months after taking the drug.

The next post will discuss the move in Maryland to ban the designer drug for some of the above reasons.

Sources:

The New York Times, “An Alarming New Stimulant, Legal in Many States,” Abby Goodnough and Katie Zezima, 16 July 2011

Another state about to decriminalize marijuana possession

In a story by the Associated Press and published on the Huffington Post, a growing number of state lawmakers and state governors are jumping on the decriminalization bandwagon when it comes to marijuana.

Most recently, as David Klepper reports, yet another state has made the move to ease up on the penalty for marijuana possession, while Maryland stays pretty much where it has been.

The state (Rhode Island) has passed a bill that makes possession of an ounce or less worthy of just a $150 civil fine. Moreover, the infraction wouldn’t go on a criminal record. The bill, before it becomes law, simply awaits the state governor’s signature, which is likely to happen soon.

In Maryland, lawmakers have begun to make some moves toward relaxing marijuana policy, though nothing that comes close to decriminalization or legalization.

As far as medical marijuana is concerned, a person charged with possession can try to assert the existence of a “debilitating medical condition” as part of his or her defense, but this defense is only available in certain circumstances.

And as far as non-medical marijuana is concerned (i.e. recreational use), any amount of possession can result in jail time and relatively heavy criminal fines (and a criminal record), which is a far cry from Rhode Island’s recent legislative effort.

 

Marijuana: Miss Maryland ‘diplomatic’ in her opposition to legalization

As Chris Kaltenbach reports for the Baltimore Sun, Maryland has a lot to be proud of in Miss Maryland (and 2012 Miss USA runner-up), 27-year-old Nana Meriwether, who was born in South Africa while her parents were doing an eight-year stint involving charitable medical work.

True to pageant form, Meriwether was put to task regarding the current political issues of the day. She’s against the legalization of marijuana, for instance, but also said that legalizing it could help “stabilize” the economy, as Kaltenbach reports.

It’s not clear why Meriwether opposes marijuana legalization, though perhaps her answer is a testament to her latent political – or pageant – prowess, given that outright support of marijuana legalization would undoubtedly garner some measure of opposition among the powers-that-be in the pageant world, hurting Meriwether’s chances of winning.

The fact is that legalization of marijuana – for both medical and non-medical purposes – is one of the hot-button issues of the day. Medical marijuana, for instance, has been shown to improve pain-relief among those suffering from chronic illnesses. Those who oppose the use of medical marijuana, however, claim that legalizing marijuana for medical purposes is simply a stepping-stone to outright legalization en masse.

If you are facing criminal charges, contact a Maryland criminal defense lawyer before you talk to police or anyone else.

 

 

Source: More on Miss USA Maryland Nana Meriwether