At the start of 2013, Maryland police officers began issuing criminal citations to persons charged with possessing less than 10 grams of marijuana. Prior to 2013, people charged with possessing any amount of marijuana in the state of Maryland were arrested and booked by a court commissioner. Under the old system, many people had to pay bail in order to secure their release while pending trial. Under the new system, defendants get the benefit of not being booked or detained. The downside to this obvious improvement to the law is that they often do not understand their rights or responsibilities related to their pending criminal case. This post is intended to answer some common questions I have heard from defendants who received citations for possession of marijuana in Maryland. Please understand that no blog post, forum post, or email exchange can be an acceptable substitute for legal advice. If you have received a marijuana citation in Maryland then you should speak to a lawyer right away.
Is a Maryland marijuana citation like a traffic ticket?
No. A citation for possession of marijuana is not a payable ticket. You must appear in court. Your case will be scheduled in Maryland District Court along with other criminal cases. If you are found guilty of possessing of any quantity of marijuana then you could be sentenced to jail. The maximum penalty for CDS: Possession of Marijuana Less Than 10 Grams is 90 days in jail.
Am I going to jail for receiving a Maryland marijuana citation?
I can’t tell you whether you will or won’t. That’s up to the judge. But I can tell you that it is extremely rare in Baltimore and the nearby counties for someone found guilty of possessing a small amount of marijuana to be sent to jail for a first offense. Probation, fines, and community service are typical. For a more detailed account of the current (2014) state of marijuana penalties, see my post here: Maryland Marijuana Penalties 2014.
Weed is basically legal, so it’s no big deal, right?
Wrong. It’s legal in a couple of states right now, but not in Maryland. While it is most unlikely that you will be sentenced to jail for a first offense, being convicted of possessing less than 10 grams of marijuana means being convicted of a crime. A Maryland criminal conviction cannot be expunged. It will be on your permanent record forever. When you apply for a job, apply for college, or undergo a background check for a security clearance, this criminal conviction can hurt your prospects.
Will a conviction for CDS: Possession of Marijuana Less Than 10 Grams affect my student loan?
It could. Question 23 on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid asks if you have been convicted of a drug offense while you were receiving aid. If your answer is “yes,” then you have to fill out a supplemental form. Depending on your answers to the questions on that form, you may be disqualified from receiving federal student aid for a certain period of time.
Can I fight the marijuana citation?
Yes! You are presumed innocent unless proven guilty in a court of law. You can ask for a trial where you can raise factual as well as legal defenses.
I’ve heard juries won’t convict people for smoking weed. Can I ask for a jury trial?
You cannot ask for a jury trial if you have been charged with CDS: Possession of Marijuana Less Than 10 Grams. Because the maximum possible penalty is only 90 days, you are limited to having your trial in a Maryland District Court, where there are no jury trials. If you do not like the outcome of your District Court trial, you can appeal your case to the Circuit Court for the jurisdiction in which you were charged. Then you could have a jury hear your case on a de novo appeal. A de novo appeal is one where the record from the first trial is thrown out and facts are heard all over again. Any sentence you received in District Court will be stayed pending the outcome of your Circuit Court case.
What are my defenses?
That depends on the facts of your case. You may have factual defenses, eg. “You got the wrong guy,” or you may have legal defenses, eg. “My right to be free from unreasonable searches was violated and the evidence should be suppressed.” You should talk to a lawyer to determine your best defense.
Will they dismiss my case if the cop who wrote my citation doesn’t show up?
Probably not. The state’s attorney will likely ask for and receive a postponement in the event the case is not ready for trial. I’ve noticed that cases are rarely dismissed for this reason lately. In part, I think it’s because courts have adopted “working and available” policies for officer witnesses. Under this kind of policy the officer need only check in with the court and announce his availability for trial if you request one. In order to actually see the officer in the court room you have to ask for a trial when your case is called!
I don’t have a criminal record. Will they dismiss the case in order to help me keep a clean record?
Some counties have diversion programs. These programs usually require that you participate in some kind of drug treatment or drug education. After you satisfy the conditions of the program then your case will be dismissed or placed on the stet docket. Note that diversion programs vary widely from county to county. Some are easier to complete than others. Some require costly drug treatment and feel more like probation than diversion. First time offenders can usually ask the court to grant probation before judgment. Whether or not to grant probation before judgment will be up to the judge.
Will the state’s attorney or the court get rid of the case because I only had a little bit of marijuana?
In my experience representing more than 1000 marijuana defendants in the District Court system, the answer is no. Most state’s attorneys’ offices seem to prosecute a speck of marijuana or even marijuana residue just as though it was a usable quantity of the drug.
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Matthew Baum is a Maryland criminal defense attorney with offices in Baltimore, Catonsville, and Columbia, Maryland. If you or someone you care about has received a citation for possessing marijuana in Maryland, and you would like to discuss that case, Matthew Baum be reached by phone at (410) 929-3435. Initial consults are free. Evening and weekend appointments are available. Follow this link to contact Matthew Baum by email. Or you may submit questions or comments with the form below.
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