Mandatory Sentences in Maryland for Possession with Intent to Distribute Controlled Dangerous Substance Offenses

As an experienced and aggressive Maryland Criminal Attorney I regularly represent defendants in Baltimore County, Baltimore City, Anne Arundel County and throughout the State of Maryland who are charged with violating state laws criminalizing the manufacture of controlled dangerous substances (CDS), distribution of CDS or with possessing these substances in sufficient quantities and/or under certain circumstances which would lead to conclusion that the defendant possessed the substance with the intent to distribute it. The CDS’s mostly commonly involved in these cases in Maryland are cocaine, heroin and marijuana although an increasingly large percentage of these cases involve prescription pain killers such as Percocet, Oxycontin, Hydrocodone and others. A small percentage of cases involve so called “club drugs” such as MDNA also known as ecstasy, ketamine and others. Occasionally a Maryland criminal lawyer will run into a case involving PCP or methamphetamines.

Under certain circumstances, individuals charged with violating these Maryland laws, primarily dealing with schedule 2 and 3 narcotics as well as marijuana, are subject to mandatory prison terms that may not be suspended and must be served without parole.
In Maryland there are two classifications of offenders who qualify for mandatory prison terms. The first involves defendants who have been previously convicted of distribution or possession with the intent to distribute CDS. These defendants are commonly termed repeat offenders or subsequent offenders. The second classification deals with defendants who are charged with possessing large quantities of CDS, so called “weight counts” and situations where in addition to possessing large amounts of CDS, the defendant is charged with being an organizer or leader of a particular drug organization; so called “kingpins”.

Addressing repeat offenders first, a person who is charged as a second offender for offenses involving schedule 2 or 3 narcotics faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison without the possibility of parole. There are no other requirements of the statute as there are for third or fourth offenders. A person would also not be eligible for this sentence if he or she had been previosly convicted of distribution or possession with the intent to distribute a substance that is not listed in schedule 2 or 3 such as the schedule 1 drugs marijuana or MDMA. If a dismissal of charges or an acquittals are not achieved in a given case, there are then exactly two tools in the Maryland criminal defense attorney’s arsenal to get around the mandatory 10 year sentence. The first is to apply for a three judge panel review of the sentence. The panel can vitiate the 10 year sentence and sentence the defendant to a lesser period of incarceration or even probation but only if the panel is unanimous. The second tool is available only if the defendant is a habitual drug user in need of treatment. Under these circumstances an attorney can file a motion under Health General 8-505 and 8-507 to have the person evaluated by the Department of Health and Mental Hygene to see if the person is an addict who is in need of treatment. If the person is so evaluated as a drug abuser, the sentencing judge may suspend the 10 year sentence and require the defendant to complete a drug treatment program that is recommended by the Department.
A third offender faces 25 years without parole. However, in order to qualify for this sentence the defendant, in addition to having two prior convictions, must have served at least 180 days in prison. This is a requirement that has frustrated several prosecutors with whom I have had these cases because if the defendant has not served the required 180 days incarceration, not only does he not qualify for the 25 year mandatory sentence, the defendant doesn’t even qualify for the 10 year mandatory sentence. The reason for this is that requirement for the 10 year mandatory is that the defendant must have been convicted “once”. This statute, like all penal statutes, is strictly construed by the courts against the state. Because the statute says once as opposed to “at least once” or some similar phrasing, the courts construe that requirement literally thus causing someone with 2 or more prior convictions, not to qualify for the 10 year mandatory term. Similarly, while a fourth offender is subject to a minimum mandatory term of incarceration of 40 years without parole, the statute also requires that the defendant must have served three seperate terms of incarceration as a result of three seperate narcotics distribtion or possession with intent (or conspiracy to do either) convictions. Since many if not most first time offenders do not serve a term of incarceration as a result of their first offense (many first offenders receive a suspended sentence accompanied by a period of probation), few offenders meet this qualification for the 40 year mandatory sentence.

The second classification of offenders who qualify for madatory sentences are those convicted of possessing large amounts of CDS. As I noted above, by a wide margin the majority of drug cases in Maryland involve cocaine, heroin and marijuana and these are the only controlled dangerous substances to which so called “volume dealer” penalties apply. A defendant will face a minimum mandatory 5 year sentence if he or she is convicted of possessing 448 grams or more of powder cocaine or just 50 grams of crack cocaine or heroin. (The disparity in the amount necessary to qualify for a mandatory sentence between powder and crack cocaine has come under sharp criticism from many legal professionals and commentators. The disparity is viewed by some as being discriminatory in nature as African Americans are far more likely to use or sell crack and whites are more likely to use or sell powder cocaine). The mere volume at issue in these cases is sufficient to make the simple possession of the cocaine a felony as it deemed that a person in possession of these amounts intends to distribute the substance obviating the need for the State to prove that it was not possessed for personal use. A defendant will face a mandatory 2 year sentence if he is convicted of being in possession of 50 pounds of marijuana. If the state proves that in addition to being in possession of CDS in these amounts, the defendant is an organizer, supervisor, financier or mananger of a drug organization, the person will be deemed a “kingpin” and face a mandatory 20 year sentence without the possibility of parole.

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