Aggressive Baltimore County Maryland Criminal Lawyers like us handle cases involving illegal handgun possession on a regular basis. Handgun crimes are prioritized by Baltimore County Police and prosecutors, particularly cases involving possession of a handguns by convicted felons, the use of a handgun in the commission of a crime of violence and cases involving the possession of a handgun while engaging in the trafficking of narcotics. Each of these offenses is a very serious crime carrying a mandatory minimum sentence of five years without the possibility of parole and maximum sentences of up to 20 years for the latter two offenses.
I have blogged about the tactics of the police in pursuing handgun cases in the past. Detectives in the firearms unit have for some time checked the criminal records of people purchasing weapons or ammunition at stores such as Dick’s Sporting Goods and K-Mart to see if they are convicted felons or otherwise prohibited from owning or possession handguns. In recent weeks I have been hired by two people in cases that reveal a new tactic my the police.
It appears that detectives are now checking the records of shooting ranges to determine if people who are frequenting these businesses are convicted felons or otherwise prohibited persons. Basically, when a person goes into a handgun range in Maryland that person is required to produce identification in order to access the range. The range employee records the person’s personal information including their driver’s license number on a form that the person is required to sign. The form also has a clause in it that states that person’s who have been convicted of certain crimes may not possess handguns. The person is told to read the form and only to sign it if they understand the information in it.
The police detectives will get a subpoena for all of those forms for a given time period. They will then run the records of the people who frequented the range. The detectives are familiar enough with the law to know that this form by itself will likely not be enough evidence to convict the person of possessing a handgun even if it says that the person rented one to shoot. The detectives know that the employee will in all likelihood not remember if the patron had anyone else with him or her or be able to specifically recall seeing the person hold the handgun which would be required to prove that the person possessed it.
So the detectives have come up with a ruse. Once they have determined that a person is a prohibited person they call him on the telephone and tell the person that they are investigating an armed robbery that occurred at the shooting range the day that the person was there. They will ask if basic questions such as what time the person arrived and left the location. The detective will then nonchalantly ask what kind of weapon the person shot and whether the person bought the weapon to the range or rented it. Most people want to be helpful to the police and unsuspectingly give the police the evidence that they need to pursue the case.
While this may sound to most like a reasonable investigative tactic, the problem is that when the police cast such a wide net, many people who were really not targets of the investigation, such as convicted drug dealers or violent felons, end up getting caught up in it. Both of my clients fall into this category. One is in his mid thirties and the other in his early forties. Both had a misdemeanor assault conviction more than a decade ago that did not result in incarceration and that they had each basically forgotten about. Unfortunately for them, even a misdemeanor assault is considered a crime of violence and therefore bars that person from owning or possessing a handgun and subjects that person to a mandatory minimum penalty of five years without the possibility of parole should the State choose to pursue that count. The only thing these two clients really have working to their advantage is that the Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s Office does not prosecute with such a wide net. From my experience in cases such as this, the prosecutors will be able to differentiate between individuals such as my clients and the dangerous felons who are caught in this investigation and can be counted on to exercise prudent prosecutorial discretion in dealing with the former. I only wish some other State’s Attorney’s Offices that I deal with regularly could be counted on to do the same in similar cases.