The Weekly Writ: Maryland Legal News You Can Use for November 16, 2020

Today on November 16, 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 trained domestic, criminal, or civil litigation attorneys.

Maryland Courts Cancel Jury Trials, Clear Prisons for Remainder of 2020

What's Going On:

Waiting for a jury trial to rule on your case? Keep an eye out for a rescheduling notice. Due to the recent spikes of Covid-19 throughout the state, Maryland courts have backtracked its reopening plan -- which means no jury cases until 2021.

Since October, we'd been operating under a "Phase Five" reopening plan, which is almost back to normal, just with masks and social distancing.

Now, starting today (November 16), we're back at Phase Three until at least December 31st. This phase means most in-person activities -- including jury trials and hearings -- are either postponed until January 4, 2021, or otherwise virtually executed.

The prisons are also getting renewed attention with the resurgence of Covid-19. Under initiatives like Price George's County's "Operation Safe Release," Maryland courts are trying to clear jails -- known Covid-19 hotspots -- of eligible non-violent offenders.

The state's attorney's office told the Washington Post that over 90% of those still in PG county's detention center are being held on dangerous charges, not non-violent offenses.

Why This Matters To You:

First of all, if you were scheduled for a court appearance or trial, then contact your lawyer as soon as humanly possible!! These court changes are extremely recent. If your lawyer hasn't reached out already, then take the initiative and ask them or their office where your case stands in the system.

(JC Law is already working through the repercussions of this recent schedule change with all of our existing clients as I type this.)

Furthermore, in Maryland, the law states that a criminal trial in a circuit court must start within 180 days -- so about six months -- after they've either appeared in court the first time or they're given a public defender, unless a judge grants a postponement.

Obviously, the pandemic has thrown a wrinkle into those plans. However, that means the courts may be amenable to formally delaying or even quickly settling minor charges to stop the backlog caused by Covid-19. (Of course, only your defense attorney can say for sure.)

Covid-19's infection rate at jails and prisons may also make certain types of pretrial release easier for petitioners. Last month, one of our criminal teams managed to get a newly retained client released from jail in just five hours.

While this experience may not reflect your specific situation, it certainly illustrates some of the opportunities available during a backed-up situation like the pandemic.

More About Maryland Court System Matters

14 of Weekend Protest Arrests Had DC, VA, or Maryland Addresses

What's Going On:

You may have heard about the 21 people arrested over the pro-Trump rally and anti-fascist counter-protests that played out in DC on Saturday. Yesterday, DC police released more information about those arrests, particularly that over half of those arrested were locals -- either from DC proper, neighboring Virginia, or good ol' Maryland.

The charges included:

  • At least five gun charges;
  • Two alleged assaults on police officers; and
  • A grab-bag of aggravated assault, disorderly conduct, and destruction of property charges.

Two DC police officers were hurt during the protests, and seven guns were recovered from attendees.

Why This Matters to You:

The unrest over the election results continue, even if Maryland's own votes are decided. Even if you don't technically live in DC, you as a Marylander can still be arrested while attending out of state protests that break out into violence. Charges brought by DC cops may be charged within DC courts, not Maryland state courts.

So, if you plan on attending or organizing any rallies, then we suggest figuring out what you might do if it goes violent and arrests start getting made.

(And, contrary to popular belief, law enforcement can take you into custody for resisting arrest, even if you don't think it's merited. Cooperate whenever possible with authorities, and hire legal defense to duke it out in the courts later -- for safety reasons, if nothing else.)

More About Maryland Resisting Arrest Charges

Oyster Advocates Plant 1 Million Oysters by 2021, Petition for Harvesting Rule Changes

What's Going On:

For some positive news despite the pandemic blues, a local nonprofit Advocates for Herring Bay is on track to "plant" a million baby oysters before the new year.

The group says they've planted over 750,000 of "spat" -- oyster larvae anchored onto old oyster shells -- since September of last year, when the Bay's adult oyster and baby larvae population was decimated due to heavy rains and runoff.

Herring Bay is a waterway located near Annapolis, and considered part of the greater Chesapeake Bay. The location is currently under public discussion for a proposed 31-acre oyster lease, which local activists worry would ruin local wildlife due to invasive "mechanical harvesting" practices.

Whether the lease and subsequent permits for oyster harvesting in Herring Bay reflect these concerns is yet to be seen.

Why This Matters to You:

First of all, if you're in Maryland, then you should be excited at the prospect of more oysters growing in the Bay. They're tasty in and of themselves, and also support local crab population growth. Just in time for post-pandemic crab feasts, if you ask us.

On a legal note, it's good to see locals taking an active interest in their local legislation to find a happy balance between protections and regulations, and development of new projects.

If the advocates get their wish list from the Department of Natural Resources, then anyone with a permit to harvest oysters in the area will need to practice rotational harvesting (to minimize local impacts and overfishing), using a special type of oyster during replanting (to make sure the species propagates further), and be more careful about how they physically harvest the oysters (to avoid killing "by-catch" animals).

Mind you, the Department of Natural Resources can be very particular when it comes to pursuing those who fish illegally or otherwise break the rules of their permits. And, it could end up in state or federal court, depending on the waterway involved.

So, pay attention to these legal rule changes the next time you're out oystering, to avoid being on any legal system court docket.

More About Federal-Level Charges

Waldorf Man Sentenced to 66 Months in Federal Prison for Drug Dealing

What's Going On:

A US District Court judge sentenced a 45 year old from Waldorf to 66 months -- that's more than five years -- in federal prison on charges of:

According to the plea deal, the defendant was part of a larger drug distribution network centered out of Charles County, Maryland, that operated for at least a year from August 2018 to August 2019.

The group spoke in coded language meant to disguise their activities. However, despite the precaution, law enforcement collected enough evidence to execute search warrants at 9 different locations last August; the case has been pending since then.

Without the plea deal, the maximum sentence for conspiracy in federal court would have been 40 years, with an additional max of 20 years for possession with intent to distribute.

Why This Matters to You:

Federal crimes can and do come home to roost in local areas. Just because you're not in the center of things directly in DC or Baltimore doesn't mean that the authorities -- state or federal -- aren't tracking possible legal activity.

And, as we mentioned last week, plea deals can dramatically reduce possible sentences. After all, this defendant went from a max possible of 60 years to just five and a half years.

More About Maryland Drug Charges

Marylanders Caught Up In National Boy Scouts Sex Offense Claims

What's Going On:

Some quick context: The Boy Scouts of America is trying to declare bankruptcy. The judge in charge of the bankruptcy restructuring case made today -- Monday, November 16 -- the final day that anyone could file a claim against the organization alleging possible sexual abuse or other child-related sex crimes.

From an electrician in White Marsh to a senior in Middle River, hundreds of Marylanders have filed suit against the Boy Scouts, alleging thousands of instances of sexual assault committed by volunteers leading the organization in Maryland.

Maryland's statute of limitations for civil claims of sexual abuse ends once the alleged victims reach age 38. However, the state offers no such limitation on the age of criminal sexual abuse claimants.

Some of the alleged abusers were already sentenced and punished to various sex offenses some twenty years ago, but this recent wave of allegations has resurrected their legal struggles in state and federal courts.

One group of out-of-state lawyers in Oregon actually forced the organization to release internal files tracing allegations since the 1960s. These files make serious allegations of sexual misconduct against more than 40 Marylanders -- many of whom were subsequently tried in the court of public opinion, but never formally charged or convicted in court.

According to University of Virginia researchers, actual reports -- let alone confirmed cases -- of sexual misconduct were quite low. Per the Baltimore Sun, only 25 adults out of over a million volunteers were added to those internal reporting files in an example year of 1986. (That's just 0.002% out of all volunteers serving at that time.)

Why This Matters to You:

The timing of this latest wave of allegations against the Boy Scouts of America is telling, first of all. It's right before the window closes on the ability of alleged victims to be considered for settlements or other compensation as the national organization restructures during bankruptcy.

(You could also put two and two together and hypothesize that the organization specifically declared bankruptcy to freeze the hundreds of pending lawsuits concerning sexual abuse allegations.)

That said, one case of child abuse is too many -- but most of us are not judges in a Maryland court of law. Many of these allegations are not proven; many of those accused have never been charged. Those accused of these crimes deserve their chance at a fair trial and to tell their side of the story before knee-jerk condemnation.

However, there's no denying that the Boy Scouts clearly had a problem with sex abuse scandals, given the long string of convictions and settlements surrounding similar allegations.

We hope that all victims of child sexual abuse find the therapy, support, and recovery that they deserve -- and the perpetrators find the treatments they need to become safe members of society once more.

More on Child-Related Sex Charges in Maryland