In Baltimore County, the Police are increasingly resorting to investigating and ultimately arresting citizens who simply go to gun ranges such as Continental Arms in Timonium or Freestate in Middle River. As an criminal defense attorney with 20 years of experience, I have represented dozens of people who have been charged in these case, probably more than any other lawyer in Baltimore. These investigations and prosecutions are deeply troubling to me as they are nothing more than a shameless attempt to build up the police statistics for firearms prosecutions and confiscations.
The overwhelming majority of the citizens involved in these cases have only misdemeanor convictions that, more often than not, date back a decade or longer. These folks are hard working, law abiding citizens who generally speaking have no idea that they are in violation of the law by going to a gun range and renting a gun to take target practice. Most believe that if their prior records cause any prohibition at all, it is only on ownership of weapons, not simply shooting one in a controlled environment such as a gun range. To make these investigations even more troublesome and, in my view, counterproductive to the stated goal of law enforcement which is to protect and serve the community, the police utilize “ruse interviews” (everyone else just calls it plain old lying) to entrap their targets into incriminating themselves. It is difficult to believe that the police don’t understand what a corrosive impact the use of scorched earth tactics such as these have on their relationship with the community they purport to serve. I was recently contacted by a Baltimore County couple that were the target of one of these investigations. I think it is a particularly egregious case. Here are the facts:
The target of the investigation is a gentleman in his early 50’s. The police became aware of his existence when they summonsed the records of shooters who had gone to the Continental Gun Range for a month late last year. For those who don’t know how this works, whenever someone goes into a gun range, the employees make a copy of the shooter’s driver’s license. They keep this along with a copy of a standard form that everyone has to execute. One of the questions on this forms asks if the shooter has ever been convicted of an offense that carries a penalty of more that 2 years in jail.
The target in this case had a few misdemeanor drug possession charges in the early 1980’s, 30 years ago! He had never spent a day in jail and in any event believed, as many people do, that because his priors were misdemeanors, that they carried a penalty of less than a year. He also believed that because these incidents occurred 30 years ago, that they were basically off his record at this point. Unfortunately for him he was incorrect in both of these assumptions. In Maryland, possession of a controlled dangerous substance carries 4 years in jail unless it is marijuana in which case it carries a year. So each time he went there with his wife to shoot, he checked the “no” box in response to this question and went ahead and shot.
Armed with a copy of the form my client executed along with his dust covered misdemeanor record from the Rick Springfield era, the police responded to their home unannounced and conducted their “ruse interview”. Instead of telling them the real reason that they were, they lied and said that they were investigating a theft that had occurred at Continental one day that they were there and asked for their cooperation. They were more than willing to do so of course and incriminated themselves in the process which is exactly what they police intended. Needless to say, they were stunned to find out that they had been lied to and now feel like they can no longer trust the police.
This seems to me like a bad tradeoff for the police. By conducting this “ruse interview” they turn two people (and probably everyone that they tell about it) from people who were demonstrably willing to help the police into people who are now distrustful of the police. And all they get in exchange is a stat building arrest that in no way furthers their mission which is to protect the community. The irony of the situation is that had the police simply told them the truth they both said (as has most everyone I have ever represented in one of these cases has said) that they would have admitted that they shot there because they honestly didn’t believe that they had done anything wrong.
And the icing on the cake is that when the police came back to arrest them, they came in platoon strength! Roughly a dozen police officers in 4 or 5 cars descended upon their home ensuring that their presence was known to the entire neighborhood. They totally traumatized this family of 6 including the target’s wife who is trying to raise 4 children while suffering from MS. Even setting aside what the police did to these people, does anyone think this massive expenditure of time and resources is appropriate to arrest two 50 somethings for target practice? I think not; in fact I think the police who were involved in this should be ashamed of themselves.