As an Aggressive and Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney, I have handled hundreds of cases involving the illegal possession of regulated firearms by disqualified persons. These are very serious offenses that can carry mandatory 5 year prison sentences depending upon why the person is disqualified. Over the past few years, detectives from the Baltimore County Police have been investigating people who have frequented Continental and Freestate gun ranges to see if the have criminal records that disqualify them from possessing handguns or other regulated firearms.
For those who are unaware, when a person goes to a gun range in Maryland, they are required to fill out a form that asks a number of questions. One of those questions asks if the person has ever been convicted of a crime that carries more than two years of imprisonment. The detectives procure these forms from the gun range and then run criminal background checks on everyone who frequented the range, including those who simply rented firearms as opposed to bringing one in with them. Those who have read my blog over the years know that I have been trying to warn people about these cynical and misguided cases for many years. These investigations are thinly veiled statistic building exercises that do nothing to advance the basic goals of law enforcement. Indeed they are, in my opinion, counterproductive to those goals as they cause people who live in the community that they are supposed to serve to become distrustful of the police and therefore less likely to assist them in legitimate criminal investigations. The police then compound the damage to the relationship between them and the community by these cases by utilizing a so called “ruse” technique to ensnare the targets of their investigation. I was recently retained in one of these cases by a boyfriend and girlfriend who shot at Continental. Here are the facts:
My clients are boyfriend and girlfriend who moved to Maryland a few years ago. I will refer to them as John and Jane Doe in this blog. Both John and Jane have minor criminal records. John has a “felony driving under the influence” charge from another State as well a misdemeanor assault charge that was classified by that State as “non-violent and non-repetitive”. Jane had only a possession of CDS charge for which she was granted probation. She had been recently robbed at knife point in her neighborhood and became very fearful, even when in their home. John had been the victim of a vicious assault a number of years ago that left him in a medically induced coma for over 3 months.
After being robbed, Jane asked John if he would take her to the range to teach her to shoot a handgun as she had never done so. Neither owned a weapon and she wanted to experience shooting one before she even considered attempting to purchase one for personal protection. Prior to going to the range, John called a friend who was a police officer to ask if he would be allowed to shoot at range. He explained what his background was and the officer told him that he couldn’t see how a DUI could disqualify him as all DUI’s in Maryland are misdemeanors that carry a maximum penalty of a 1 year. He also didn’t think a “non-violent” misdemeanor assault would disqualify him.
Armed with this information (yes I intended the pun), my client went to the Continental Gun Range in Baltimore County. Both he and Jane read the form and because it referred to a two year prison sentence and neither had been sent to jail at all much less for two years, they both checked no in answer to this question. They rented a handgun, fired a few boxes of ammo and left the range.
A few weeks later a police officer called John on the phone and told him that he was investigating an armed robbery that had occurred at Continental Gun Range the same day that he had been there and was wondering is he could ask him a couple of question. John was of course eager to help this law enforcement officer solve a violent crime so he readily agreed. I’m sure you see where this is going. Of course there was no robbery. This was the “ruse” (also known as a blatant lie) that the officer used to get my client to incriminate himself. I have been a full time criminal attorney for 20 years and I am not easily surprised or disturbed by police conduct but I find it absolutely shocking and deplorable that the police would use such a scorched earth tactic to investigate a manufactured “crime” like this. Prior to these investigations I had seen this tactic used only in serious felony cases. My clients were incredulous that a cop would lie to them like that and prey on their willingness to help the police over a “crime” as trivial as this. They have, as most of my previous clients have, vowed to never cooperate with the police again. In fact John’s words were, “the only words I will ever utter to a cop again are, I want my lawyer”. And it’s not just them, the police can rest assured that they will tell this story over and over again and as a result, many other people will become distrustful of the police as well. Seems like a bad overall strategy for protecting the community to me but what do I know.
This case is still pending so I will update it when it is resolved.