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Another Ridiculous Shooting Range Gun Charge

https://www.mdattorney.com/lawyer-attorney-1300820.htmlAs a Baltimore Maryland Criminal Defense Attorney I have represented dozens of people who have been charged with being in possession of a handgun after being convicted of a felony, a crime of violence or any other disqualifying crime. Many of these prosecutions have been meritorious cases in which the defendant had a serious criminal record, knew full well they were prohibited from possessing a handgun and chose to carry a weapon on their person or in their car in spite of that knowledge. These charges are serious and are prosecuted aggressively by every State’s Attorney’s Office in the State. Quite often the prosecutors reasonably choose to seek the mandatory five year without parole sentence against defendants who have serious felony convictions or convictions or crimes of violence.

On the other end of the spectrum are people who many years in the past were convicted of what they at least thought was a very minor misdemeanor and they legitimately did not know that they were prohibited from possession a handgun. To make matters worse, in many of these cases the defendant did not even possess a weapon in the way most people interpret the term “possess” and instead get charged for doing something like shooting a weapon they do not own at a shooting range. I have represented many people over the years who have been charged in these so called “gun range” cases most every one of which should never be prosecuted, but I was recently hired in perhaps the most outrageous one I have ever seen involving an active duty combat soldier in our Armed Forces. Here are the facts:

My client is a 35 year old active duty member of the United States Marine Corps. He has been on active duty for about 10 years having decided to serve his country after we were attacked on September 11. He has served 2 combat tours, one each in Iraq and Afghanistan and has twice been injured when vehicles he was in were hit by Improvised Explosive Devices. In other words he is someone whom our government pays to use weapons to kill people on our behalf to defend our way of life. But according to the Baltimore County Police he can’t shoot a handgun at a firing range.

Unfortunately for my client, a few years before he joined the Marine Corps, he was involved in breakup with a girlfriend that got a little messy – never violent but a little messy. During that time he had been charged with telephone misuse which basically means that he continued to call her after he was told not to. He went to court, pled guilty on the advice of counsel, paid a 100 fine and that was that. He was told by his lawyer that it was a misdemeanor (it is) and should in no way affect his life or his future. He never went to jail, he never reported to a probation officer and he was never told that by pleading guilty he would forever forfeit his Constitutionally protected right to bear arms enshrined in the Second Amendment. But under Maryland law, that is exactly what he did.

Most people are unaware and would never conceive of the idea that a non-violent misdemeanor would carry such a consequence but in the People’s Republic of Maryland it does. You see, the crime of Telephone Misuse carries a maximum penalty of 3 years in prison even though almost no one ever goes to jail for 3 days much less 3 years for committing this “crime”. Under Maryland law a person becomes “prohibited” if they are convicted of, or plead guilty to any crime that carries a maximum penalty of 2 years or more in prison. This makes people like my current client as well as people convicted of misdemeanor assault (10 year max), possession of CDS (4 year max), and other misdemeanor offenses that most people consider minor or non-violent or both, a “prohibited person” who may not possess a handgun.

My client, who was obviously unaware of this prohibition, got himself in trouble when he took his girlfriend to Continental Arms in Timonium to teach her how to shoot a handgun. A few days after engaging in this seemingly innocent and legal activity he got a call from a Baltimore County Police Detective. I have written before about my distaste for these cases and in particular the investigative tactics used by the police to investigate them, but these tactics are particularly galling in this case given the background of my client and the nature of his disqualifying conviction.

For reasons I cannot understand these detectives choose to use scorched earth tactics in these cases. Instead of simply contacting the person and interviewing them about their trip to the range, which I would predict would result in honest cooperation from the overwhelming majority of people, they choose to lie and pray upon the individuals’ desire to help law enforcement. Instead of telling the truth, they lie and say they are investigating an armed robbery that occurred that day and are wondering if the person saw anything “suspicious”.

They then get the person to admit that they shot a weapon, even if they only rented it at the range, before telling them the real nature of their investigation. The police call this a “ruse” investigation. I call it cynical when used in this type of case where everyone knows the only purpose is phony handgun arrest stat building. In my opinion these are tactics that should be reserved for investigations into real crimes where the defendant poses a real danger to society, not citizens who have some minor charge in the background whom everyone knows pose no danger to anyone. The result of using this “ruse” tactic has been in my experience invariably to turn someone who demonstrably trusts and is willing to assist the police into the exact opposite. It is hard for me to see how these result is in the big picture interest of either the police or society as a whole.

I wonder if these detectives ever think about what is likely to happen if in the future one of their colleagues were to contact someone like my current client who may possess real information about a real crime and request his assistance. I can tell you from my conversations with him and most every other person I have represented in these cases, that this future detective is very likely going to be told to go F*#! himself.