Overcharging in Baltimore County Narcotics Case – A Common Practice

Maryland Criminal AttorneyBaltimore Criminal Attorney I represented a client today on a possession with intent to distribute a controlled dangerous substance case today in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County. In this case the particular substance was amphetamines and the case presents a good example of how many narcotics detectives overcharge certain cases – presumably to inflate their own felony arrest statistics.

In this case the client was pulled over for a routine traffic offense. The officer claimed, as they frequently do, that he smelled the odor of burning marijuana coming from the car. (The Court of Appeals ruled approximately 15 years ago that the smell of marijuana alone constitutes probable cause. As one might imagine after that ruling was handing down, police officers across Maryland began to smell marijuana on car stops with increasing frequency). The officer ordered my client out of the car and commenced a search of the vehicle. Inside the vehicle the officer found a small amount of cocaine and two percocets, which for anyone who doesn’t know, is a prescription narcotic. He arrested my client and charged him with possession of a controlled dangerous substance.

Approximately 10 days later the officer went to a judge and got a search warrant signed for the search of my client’s home. This in and of itself is pretty disturbing because there was absolutely no indication that my client was involved in the distribution of controlled dangerous substances as well as the fact that the officer waited almost two weeks before applying for the warrant. Typically, detectives will only seek a search warrant for a person’s home if they have reason to believe that the person is a dealer, not a mere. Moreover, they usually apply for the warrant and conduct the search while the person remains in custody for the original arrest. If anything is recovered in the search then charges are simply added on to the charge for which the person was originally arrested. The delay caused my client to be arrested twice which may be good for the officer’s stats but seems a bit unfair to me.

Having said that, the search was conducted and again a small amount of cocaine was recovered. What was also recovered was 72 amphetamines. The officer did not specify what the amphetamine was in the charging document and the lab only confirmed that the pills were indeed amphetamines without further identifying them. Prior to my involvement in the case the prosecutor reviewed the evidence as presented by the officer and indicted my client on a felony drug charge of possession with the intent to distribute amphetamines. When I had my initial consultation with the client I asked him about the amphetamines and he explained that they were in fact his prescription Attention Deficit Disorder drugs that he has been taking for almost 20 years. Moreover, he explained, the pills were in his medicine cabinet in the prescription bottle from the pharmacy with his name on the label when the officer recovered them.

Once I explained the situation to the prosecutor and he confirmed that what I had told him was true, he was angry and immediately dismissed the felony. However, this did not entirely mitigate the damage done to my client as a result of the officer over-charging the case. First of all, he had to pay a substantially higher bail because he was charged with a felony as opposed to a misdemeanor and because he was technically out on bail for the first incident when he was arrested for the search warrant case. Second, he faced the possibility that if he did not receive probation before judgement on the possession charge, that the felony would always remain on his record, at least the fact that he was charged with a felony that is. The reason for this is that the expungement statute does not allow a person to have any individual count in an indictment expunged, even if that count is dismissed, if the person is convicted of any other count in the indictment. So if he did not receive probation before judgement anyone who looked up his record would see the felony charge and almost certainly wrongly conclude that he was caught dealing drugs but was able to plea bargain it down to a misdemeanor which was clearly not the case.

Fortunately for him the judge was also not pleased at the officer’s conduct and he did in fact grant the client probation before judgement. He even waived all fines and court costs because of the fact that my client was wrongly charged with a felony. Assuming he does not violate his probation, the probation before judgement (PBJ) disposition will allow him to have the entire case expunged from his record in three years.

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