The Weekly Writ: Maryland Legal News You Can Use for December 21, 2020

Today on December 21, 2020, read about:

Of course, if these or any other legal questions are impacting you and your family, then don't hesitate to reach out to JC Law for your free initial consultation with one of our expert domestic, criminal, or civil litigation attorneys.

Harford County Public Schools Join National Lawsuit Against Juul.

Original Story

What's Going On:

Harford County Public Schools (HCPS) have joined a nationwide lawsuit against the vape manufacturer Juul.

HCPS and other school systems cite the increased expense and staff time devoted to monitoring, counseling, and sometimes disciplining students for e-cig use for bringing the lawsuit.

State and federal prosecutors previously accused Juul of bad faith marketing of potentially dangerous and addictive substances to vulnerable teen populations, such as selling e-liquids with candy and fruit flavors.

In 2019, HCPS created an online class as a disciplinary action for violating the Tobacco-Free and Inhalant-Free School Environment policy, in direct response to rising e-cigarette use in schools.

Why This Matters To You:

For years, we've known nicotine is addictive and bad for your health. Schools, parents, and anti-tobacco campaigns have hammered home that message for decades.

That messaging is partly responsible for the dramatic decrease in smoking among teens.

Still, the messaging may be a victim of its own success, as a new nicotine delivery system -- vaping -- is now Big Tobacco's latest move to introduce nicotine to youths and win a new generation of consumers.

To avoid future civil litigation from HCPS and other concerned organizations, Juul may be better served marketing their product as a nicotine reduction mechanism for adults, rather than just as a straight-up tobacco alternative.

Still, this story brings up an interesting question: Is it the responsibility of the school to teach students about tobacco or nicotine use and its dangers? Or, should only parents be primarily responsible for talking to and teaching their kids about vaping and other potentially dangerous substances?

Legal matters cost money, too. So, is it worth spending taxpayer money on a lawsuit for potential future gain, rather than funding (more) classes on the dangers of nicotine right now?

We can't say for sure, since we're not privy to any additional information beyond the news article, but it may be worth it for the HCPS plaintiffs to consider how much supporting this lawsuit will cost against current budgets, as well as how much it stands to gain -- or lose -- with this lawsuit's outcome.

More About Civil Litigation in Maryland

Maryland's Longest Imprisoned Female Set Free

Original Story

What's Going On:

Detained since 1978 at age 18 for her role in the deaths of two people, Maryland's longest serving imprisoned female is finally released.

During her time imprisoned, she gained support of local lawmakers and prison reform advocates who championed her release efforts. But, it was not until the pandemic that she finally was granted her release.

While in prison, the inmate contracted the virus and was hospitalized. During that time, a Baltimore State’s Attorney unit for free aging prisoners at-risk for coronavirus took up her case.

The unit convinced Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Yvette Bryant to re-sentence the inmate to time served.

During her time in prison, the inmate became an exemplary inmate. She:

  • Earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Morgan State,
  • Worked as a data entry clerk,
  • Organized self-help lunches for inmates, and
  • Volunteered for charity work.

All of these factors helped with her re-sentencing.

Why This Matters To You:

Everybody makes mistakes and we live in America, a country founded on second chances.

So, those who show remorse and growth should be entitled to a mulligan, right?

That time served in prison can benefit some if not many criminals, so they may be rehabilitated and taste freedom again.

To do so, first they must either be paroled or re-sentenced to time served.

For either to occur, a convicted inmate can't just say they're a new person and expect the authorities to open the prison doors for them to waltz on out.

Instead, they must show the courts through their actions that they are truly a changed person -- just as this female inmate did, even if it took years to pull off. (Having good legal representation to work for their release doesn't hurt, either!)

Of course, a random factor in this case is the coronavirus pandemic. Maryland specifically set up a unit to examine inmates and their health, releasing those who have a higher risk of contracting the virus and are not a danger to society.

This female inmate tried several times before to be released early, but was denied. Her previous unsuccessful attempt was outright denied by Gov. Hogan back in 2019. The pandemic scenario helped, not hurt, this particular case, as did her proof of rehabilitation.

The same pandemic can help other inmates in similar situations, especially they are senior or have pre-existing conditions that make contracting COVID-19 highly likely.

More About Sentence Modification

Man Pleads Guilty to Assault in Bike Trail BLM Flier-Snatching Incident

Original Story

What's Going On:

A Kensington man plead guilty to misdemeanor assault stemming from an incident this summer involving three teens posting anti-police brutality fliers.

The encounter occurred on the Capital Crescent Trail in Bethesda back in June 2020, following the death of George Floyd.

After an onlooker's video of the situation went viral, police ultimately arrested the Kensington man.

In the video, the defendant is seen confronting the teens, yelling and grabbing at the posters they were putting up.

All three teens accused him of physically touching them with his hands or otherwise using his bike to assault them.

The defendant has since expressed his remorse for his actions. He will be sentenced on February 2, 2021.

Why This Matters To You:

Emotions are a tough animal to cage, and they get the better of us at times.

Any type of confrontation can escalate quickly, as it did in this case. It started as a verbal argument, but ended with a physical assault.

The George Floyd death sparked outcries from all political parties and every member of society. Some reactions resorted to violence, leading to assault cases just like the defendant’s.

Fortunately, he did not go off the handle and really harm the teens -- they just got some scrapes and bruises. If he had punched, hit, kicked, or struck the teens with a weapon, then a misdemeanor turns into a felony aggravated assault quickly.

It could have been a different scenario had the teens decided to gang up on the defendant and attack him, leading to the defendant becoming the victim and pressing assault charges on the underage juveniles.

However, these teens had already seen how a situation can go from bad to worse with the George Floyd death.

They acted appropriately and protected themselves by moving away from the attacker, not instigating further violence, and contacting authorities.

While the defendant has every right to voice his opinion, no argument gives another the right to attack someone. He would have been better off just telling the teens he disagreed with what they were doing and left it at that.

Remember: The law does not justify striking out violently over differences of opinion. The defendant disagreed with what the teens were doing, and he lashed out... which landed him in legal trouble.

More About Threats & Assault Charges

Against Expert Advice, Maryland Spent Millions to Upgrade a Closed Juvenile Detention Facility

Original Story

What's Going On:

Against all advice, Maryland spent millions to upgrade a Western Maryland juvenile detention center just a few years ago and now it sits closed.

Consultants advised the state that these centers do more harm than good to juvenile offenders and waste taxpayer money. However, renovations went forward anyway.

Now, just a few years later, Garret’s Children Center sits empty along with two others.

New policy recommended by Maryland legislature's The Juvenile Justice Reform Council suggests implementing a structure of probation services closer to the juvenile offender's hometown over detention facilities, to keep juveniles closer to their families and support networks.

Maryland is expected to take up juvenile justice during the upcoming 2021 legislative session.

Expected debates will probably revolve around the new program's structure and location.

Most Maryland juvenile offenders come from urban areas – D.C./Baltimore – and studies have shown that moving offenders to remote rural locations away from their families does more harm to both the offender and their family.

However, not everyone agrees, questioning whether it is a good idea to send even juvenile offenders home to cities where they already went astray or have bad home situations.

Why This Matters To You:

Part of growing up is making mistakes and learning from them. But how can a child do that when they are torn apart from their support system? That is one question at hand for legislators; the other is how to best serve the community during that learning process.

Being close to their family, friends, and community can help juvenile offenders' rehabilitation process, rather than being in isolation at a rural facility.

Our inner-city youth deserve a fair shot at a second chance and a further look at how we serve them in the criminal justice system is an excellent start.

We all want better for the next generation and taxpayer money is better spent helping and guiding our troubled youth rather than on juvenile detention centers that sit closed and unused.

More About Juvenile Justice Services

Drug-Dealing Pharmacist Now Convicted of Murder For Hire Plot, Too

Original Story

What's Going On:

A former Baltimore pharmacist convicted of running a prescription drug ring out of his pharmacy also pleaded guilty to federal murder for hire charges last week.

The pharmacist allegedly learned about a witness in the drug case against him. While awaiting sentencing, he contacted someone to have the witness killed.

The would-be hitman (or woman) told law enforcement about the plot, and a sting operation started. Days before his sentencing, the defendant was shown fake pictures of the witness dead. After seeing the pictures, he was re-arrested on murder for hire charges.

Originally sentenced just 51 months in jail for the drug charges, Robinson now will spend an additional 10 years in prison for the federal murder for hire charge.

Why This Matters To You:

A crime does not need to be committed for a conspiracy charge -- which murder for hire plots are. Just the intent to commit a crime can land you in prison.

The pharmacist compounded his legal problems, even while he thought "eliminating" a witness was his path to freedom.

He would have been better served appealing the conviction or applying for a sentence modification to reduce his time in prison. Now, he gets even more time in jail.

Making a bad situation worse is not what you want to do when you are already guilty of a crime. Rather, consider looking at your legal options to see how your sentence can be reduced, modified, or changed -- and listen to your lawyer! Don't try to fix things on your own, and especially against the advice of your legal counsel.

More About Federal Conspiracy Charges

Medstar Franklin Square Medical Center Employee Charged with Arson

Original Story

What's Going On:

On December 12th, the Medstar Franklin Square Medical Center put out no fewer than five separate fires. A few days later, detectives arrested one of its employees on arson charges.

After detectives determined all fires were similar and intentionally set, they opened an investigation. Through interviews and electronic evidence, they discovered a swipe card belonging to the suspect employee was used on all the floors with fires.

Currently, that employee is detained without bail pending a bail review hearing.

Why This Matters To You:

Eyewitness testimony is not the most reliable of evidence. At best, it gives investigators a starting point for a description of a suspect, but even that is shaky. Circumstantial evidence cannot carry the case alone.

Prosecutors must typically prove beyond a doubt that the accused did whatever they're accused of doing, but a lot of this evidence -- like the testimony -- seems circumstantial.

For example, can law enforcement actually prove the suspect was the one who used her swipe card? Was it lost or stolen from her?

If so, what possible motive could she have to set these fires at the place where she worked? The fires could have shut down the health center for not only herself, but all of her coworkers!

(A bit of a improbable "biting your nose off to spite your face" situation, no?)

The alleged suspect still needs to see a commissioner to set bail (or not). The amount depends on the severity of the charges – misdemeanor in this case – and her past criminal record, as well as flight risk.

More About Arson Charges