As an Aggressive Baltimore Maryland Criminal Attorney I have handled more of these Continental Arms Gun Range Cases that any other attorney that I am aware of. Last week I handled two of theses case in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County. Both defendants were facing mandatory 5 years prison terms – neither served a day in jail and both received unsupervised probation.
I have blogged about these cases several times in the past noting that in my view, these cases represent the worst in law enforcement and are in many ways counterproductive to main objective of law enforcement which is, of course, to keep the community safe. The reason for my belief that these cases are in fact counterproductive stems from both the simple fact that these cases are prosecuted in the first place, and this fact is compounded by the “scorched earth” tactics utilized by the police to investigate them. More on that later but here are the facts of the cases:
These two cases had substantially similar facts, the only difference being what crime the defendant had been previously convicted of that disqualified him from possessing a firearm. One of the individuals was convicted of second degree assault for a fist fight with another young man when he was just 18 years old. The other individual had a more serious record as he had been convicted of felony drug distribution.
Both went to Continental Arms to shoot in the indoor shooting range. Neither owns a weapon or brought one with him to the range. Instead they both rented weapons to shoot on the premises. Each signed a lengthy form on which one of the questions reads “Have you ever been convicted of a criminal offense carrying a year in jail or more”. This form tends to confuse people who have little experience with the criminal justice system. Many of these people believe that they are only forbidden from owning (rather than possessing) a firearm or they believe that if they never went to jail then there were not convicted often telling me that the case was “thrown out”, when if fact they were convicted and received probation or a fine.
Unfortunately, they are very often mistaken about their records. More often than not the person was convicted and simply paid a fine or was sentenced to probation and they don’t realize that this means they were convicted. This was the case with each of these individuals so they checked no and went ahead and shot handguns on the premises of Continental Arms.
The police issue subpoena’s for these forms from Continental Arms and run criminal record checks on these individuals. And here is the really cynical part – the investigators then call these folks and tell them that they are investigating an armed robbery that occurred at Continental the day that they were there and tell them that they need to interview them. To a person, everyone that I have represented in these cases tells me that they were willing, no eager, to help the police. Of course there was no armed robbery, it was all a ruse to convince these folks to cooperate and ultimately to incriminate themselves. The tactic is certainly effective as every person that I have represented in these cases has in fact incriminated himself.
The problem that I have with the tactic is that it is both unnecessary and, in the long term, counterproductive. The reason I say that it is unnecessary is that the majority of these individuals would have admitted to their conduct without the ruse and even if they did not, these case could be proven without their confessions. The downside to using this ruse tactic is that the police have now turned people who were demonstrably willing to do whatever they could to help the police into people who no longer trust the police and who vow to never help them again regardless of the circumstances. This seems to me to be a very bad trade off for the police. They make a stat building gun arrest that does nothing to protect the community and in exchange they make mortal enemies out of every one of the defendants and probably all of their families and close friends in the process. I am not suggesting that there are not cases in which these types of tactics are necessary and appropriate – I just don’t believe they are necessary or appropriate in these types of cases.
Luckily for these individuals, the prosecutor who handles these case recognizes that for the most part these are not violent criminals practicing with weapons in preparation to commit some heinous crime. Instead he apparently understands that they are just people who wanted to do a little target shooting and either honestly misunderstood the form or simply didn’t believe that they were really doing anything wrong by renting a gun to shoot it at the range. To his credit the prosecutor rarely pursues the mandatory 5 year sentences in these cases and did not with either one of my clients. Instead both were allowed to plead out to the misdemeanor count and I was able to convince the judge to sentence them both to a period of unsupervised probation.