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From Government, Legal and Policy - Class Actions / Lawsuits

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Changes to Marylands Marijuana Possession Laws: Courthouse Efficiency vs. Your Constitutional Rights?

Tue, 28 Aug 2012 13:28:06 EST

This past session, the Maryland General Assembly reduced the penalty for the possession of up to ten (10) grams of marijuana. Currently, the maximum penalty for possession of 10 grams of Marijuana or less is a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail. The new maximum penalty starting October 1, 2012 will be decreased to a $500 fine and/or up to 90 days in jail.The new legislation eliminates a defendant's right to a jury trial for criminal cases involving less than 10 ounces of Marijuana.  Those cases involving possession of over 10 grams of marijuana will still permit the defendant to choose whether to have the case heard by a judge or a jury.  The purpose of this is to save time and eliminate costs associated with jury trials says sponsor of the bill Jamie Raskin.

The sponsors of the legislation suggest that these changes will reduce the backlog of cases in the court system and save the defendants money from the reduced fines.  Some criminal defense attorneys in Maryland, however, project that no such savings of time and/or money will ever accrue for the State.  Instead, Maryland criminal attorney Mike Rothman states:

'While most states are presently moving to either decriminalize or de-prioritize the criminal prosecution of individuals for possession of small amounts of marijuana, Maryland is now pursuing a contrary direction.  The new law eliminates the right of a person charged with the crime of simple possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana in Maryland from seeking a jury trial before a jury of their peers when such a right previously existed under the older law.  This law is a step backwards for Maryland.'

While this law has not yet taken effect, it is already sparking controversy amongst criminal defense advocates.  'Taking in isolation, a misdemeanor conviction for the simple possession of under ten grams of marijuana may not have any negative consequences for one defendant,' said Mike Rothman.  'However, the same conviction could trigger mandatory minimum sentences and/or deportation for another individual charged with the same crime.  It is simply a bad choice by the Maryland General Assembly.' 

Whether this law eventually saves the State of Maryland time and money is still an open question.  However, eliminating constitutional rights in the name of fiscal discipline is a troubling development worth watching.


Source: WebWire



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