As Aggressive Maryland Criminal Attorneys, the Criminal Defense Team at STSW represents scores of defendants each year who face Mandatory Sentences that must be served without parole for violating Narcotics and Firearms Laws. I have written about many of these cases in the past as they tend to be among the most difficult cases that criminal defense attorneys confront. A few weeks ago I represented three members of a family who had been charged with Trafficking Narcotics with a Firearm.
In addition to this count, the father was also charged with being a Felon in Possession of a Handgun. Both of these counts carry Minimum Mandatory Penalties of five years in prison without the possibility of parole. Needless to say it was a very serious case. Here are the facts:
My client is a 56 year old man who up until 4 years ago had no prior criminal record. He married with two grown children and has worked the same job for 25 years. Hardly the profile of dangerous armed drug dealer for which these harsh criminal statutes were written. On my initial review of the case I was quite concerned as the case appeared strong, particularly with respect to the Felon in Possession of a Handgun Count.
As I said, prior to 4 years ago he had no criminal record. However, a combination of health problems and financial problems led to him being convicted of distribution of marijuana. My client had for some time been being treated for pain by his doctor with prescription narcotics. He started smoking marijuana instead of using the narcotics because he was afraid of becoming addicted to the prescription drugs as so many people do. I did not represent him in the case but to make a long story short he began selling very small amounts of marijuana to a few friends to help finance his own use and got caught. He received probation but was from that date forward prohibited from being in possession of a handgun.
In the current case, the police received a series of anonymous tips that my client’s wife was selling prescription drugs from their home. They conducted several trash pulls, which is where the police dig through your trash looking for contraband, but found no evidence of prescription drug use or sale. What they did claim to find was a few marijuana seeds and stems. Based on this scant probable cause the detectives were granted a search warrant from a judge. They executed the search warrant and found several hundred prescription pain and anti-anxiety medications although my clients claimed that they were all legally prescribed and in the bottles that came in. They also found a few grams of marijuana in the daughter’s room.
The police then asked my client if he had any weapons in the house. Because he was scared and figure they would find it anyway, my client admitted that he did and showed them where he kept a loaded 9mm handgun. He admitted to the police that it was his weapon that he knew he was prohibited and that he kept it in the house for home defense. These damning statements were made after he was properly read his Miranda rights and were not made under duress. As I noted, the case for this particular count seemed very strong and put my client in great peril of facing a 5 year Mandatory Sentence.
I knew right away that there were only two possible defenses to this count. One was to convince a court to suppress the evidence in the case because there was no probable cause to search the house which is extremely difficult in cases in which a search warrant was signed by a judge. The other possible defense was to simply convince the prosecutor that he posed no danger to the community and was not the type of criminal for which these draconian statutes was designed; again, a daunting task in the era of “Zero Tolerance” policies and micro-managed prosecutors.
As I suspected, my initial negotiations with the prosecutor, who is, incidentally a very reasonable person, were unsuccessful. She advised me that she intended to seek the Mandatory Sentence against my client even if he pleads guilty and would pursue it against his wife and daughter if he did not plead guilty. It was clear that the only way to move her from this position was to convince her that our motion to suppress had a legitimate shot of being granted. Thanks to the hard work and skillful research and writing of several members of the STSW Criminal Defense Team, we did just that. A few months after these initial negotiations, we filed a highly persuasive memorandum of law in support of our motion to suppress laying out our arguments. As we had hoped, the prosecutor became concerned that she would lose the entire case and relaxed her position and dropped the mandatory sentences if they agreed to accept pleas to the lessor counts.
Not wishing to risk losing the motion to suppress (which happens in 99% of search warrant cases) they accepted the new offers. Both mom and daughter walked out of the courtroom with probation. The final details are still being worked out with regard to the father but I am very confident that he will either receive probation or at the very least a short period of time on work release/home detention which means he will keep his job and with it his home. Needless to say he was overjoyed with this result after staring at 5 years in the Division of Corrections for the last six months.