This past Wednesday I got a call from a former client, JT, who is from a state where it is legal to travel with a handgun in the car, to help his employee, AJ, who had just been arrested in West Virginia and was awaiting extradition to Maryland. Unlike the state they were from, in Maryland it is illegal to possess or transport a handgun in a car, with very few exceptions. I had represented JT on a handgun charge in Prince George's County, Maryland and obtained a good result. Prince George's County takes a hard line on people found illegally possessing a handgun and prosecutes them very aggressively. JT, and his employee, AJ, were driving to a construction job in another state when JT got tired and asked AJ to drive. He did, but when he was pulled over for speeding, police found AJ didn't have a drivers license. A search of the car yielded the handgun. The gun belonged to JT, it was JT's car, and AJ didn't even know it was there.
Initially in District Court at the time of their arrest and release, in late October, 2011, JT was charged with illegally transporting the handgun and AJ was charged with speeding and driving without a license. In early December, both JT and AJ were indicted in Circuit Court for illegally possessing and transporting the handgun. In Maryland when someone who is initially charged in District Court is indicted in Circuit Court, the District Court loses jurisdiction to the Circuit Court and any initial bond that is posted to gain release is supposed to transfer to the new Circuit Court case. In this case when the indictments were returned a Circuit Court judge issued bench warrants and set a $25,000 bond for each as if there had been no District Court bond set and satisfied. That should not have happened.
Since I represented JT, I arranged for a "walk in arraignment," where the judge recalled the warrant and let him out on his original terms of release. Ultimately JT pleaded guilty to illegally transporting a handgun and received probation before judgment. However, AJ and his lawyer appeared in District Court in February, where he pleaded guilty to speeding and the driving without a license was stetted (postponed indefinitely). Apparently no one ever realized AJ had an outstanding warrant since early December in the same case in Circuit Court, because if they had, they also would have known that the indictment deprived the District Court of jurisdiction over at least one of the charges, driving without a license. Although, as JT's lawyer, I knew AJ had also been charged, I gave it no thought, because AJ had a lawyer who I assumed was on top of it. This Wednesday when AJ was stopped for a traffic offense in Berkeley County, West Virginia he received a rude awakening. There was an unserved bench warrant for him from Maryland for the gun charges. AJ was jailed pending extradition to Maryland. JT called me to see what I could do.
When a person is jailed pending extradition to another state he has three choices. He can fight extradition and deny he is the person the foreign state is seeking. He can postpone his extradition hearing and post a bond so he can go and surrender in the state where the warrant originated. Or he can consent and waive extradition. In that case, the requesting state has 30 days to pick up the prisoner. Unless a bond is set that the defendant can afford, he remains in jail, in limbo, waiting for (in this case) Maryland to come and get him for up to 30 days. In Maryland extraditions from other states are handled by the Secretary of State's office, working on behalf of the Governor.
JT wanted me to represent AJ. I told him I preferred not to, since there was a conflict of interest, although if necessary, the conflict could be waived. I called some friends in Maryland to see if I could find AJ a lawyer. I found two who were willing to take the case, but I needed a lawyer with free time NOW. It fell back on me, if I didn't act immediately, AJ could easily spend the next few weeks in jail.
One of the great things about the National College for DUI Defense are the close connections formed with lawyers all over the country. I called my good friend Harley Wagner in Martinsburg, West Virginia, to see if he could help. I was hoping AJ could get a bond on the extradition case so he could turn himself in in Upper Marlboro on the gun case. This is preferable to extradition which can take weeks. Wagner called the prosecutor, Pam McNeely, and she agreed to recommend the local judge set a bond so AJ could be released and turn himself in in Maryland.
On Thursday, we had a setback. The West Virginia prosecutor, McNeely, was told that Maryland vehemently objected to letting AJ out on bond. Without Maryland's agreement, she could not agree. With a three day weekend quickly approaching AJ was looking at having to waive extradition on Tuesday after Veteran's Day, and sitting in jail while he waited for up to 30 days for Maryland to come get him. I tried to find out who had objected. I played phone tag late Thursday with someone from the Maryland agency that handles extraditions, who works under the Maryland Secretary of State. We left each other voice mails and he said it was up to the local agency to determine bond. If it wasn't him, who had objected?
I asked Wagner to ask the prosecutor who she had talked to. "NCIC Contact Agency" was the response. This didn't help! I had no idea what that meant. On Thursday I had called the Prince George's County prosecutor who had handled JT's case but she was no longer in the unit that handled gun cases. She referred me to a different prosecutor. I left a voice mail for the prosecutor who was supposed to be handling it. She didn't respond.
That night, I couldn't sleep. At 1:47 a.m. I sent Wagner a detailed email, laying out the history of AJ's and JT's case and asking him to please forward the details to McNeely. On Friday morning, after returning from my a.m. court case, I left another voice message for the Prince George's prosecutor.
Meanwhile, McNeely responded to Wagner Friday morning, that she could not act based on the facts of the case - she needed something from Maryland stating their agreement to setting a bond. Wagner left me McNeely's contact information and apologized that our best efforts had failed to obtain AJ's release.
After getting back to the office from my afternoon case at around 2:30, I decided to try again. Time was running short. I told the operator it was critical for me to get a live person and not a voice mail. I finally got the prosecutor for whom I had left two voice messages and she told me she wasn't the one I wanted to talk to. But she referred me to the correct prosecutor. I started to tell them how AJ did not know there was a gun in the car that was owned by JT and she cut me off. "We are going to nolle pros the case."
I couldn't believe it. It was better than what I was seeking, an agreement to set a bond in West Virginia. I thanked the prosecutor and hung up. Of course after hanging up I realized I should have pushed the prosecutor to contact McNeely. It wasn't over yet.
I immediately sent the following email to the West Virginia prosecutor, McNeely, at 3:09 p.m.:
Thank you for your patience and consideration, I know Harley has been bugging you on my behalf, without a fee I might add.I got a response:
I finally got a prosecutor from Prince George's County on the phone. Not sure if this will get [AJ] out this weekend. But my persistence has paid off. An Assistant State's Attorney for Prince George's County, Carol Coderre, and her assistant, Angela Beasley, have agreed to nolle pros the case. The nolle pros is being filed as we speak. The office number for the State's Attorneys' office for Prince George's County, Maryland is 301-952-3500. If you hit zero you will get an operator.
It will also be confirmed at some point on the Maryland Judiciary Case Search website.
I am not sure when it will become official but of course appreciate anything you can do.
I just need something in writing from them. Unfortunately, my Judge will not accept the website. As soon as I get the letter or memo, I will run it upstairs to the Court. (A simple fax from Ms. Coderre or her assistant will do). Just a word of caution my Judges leave early on Friday and they are not here Monday.I asked McNeely for her fax number and got it. I called the Prince George's State's Attorneys' Office to give them this information and the receptionist told me McNeely had just called them.
I sent McNeely another email at 3:51.
Thank you. I called them to give the fax number and the operator told me you had called. Thanks again for whatever you are able to do.She replied at 3:52:
Just waiting on fax. All paperwork ready to goAnd then at 4:05 I got another:
DONE! Release has been faxed to jail for immediate release.AJ would be getting out of jail and would not have to defend himself against gun charges in Maryland after all. His nightmare was finally over.
I decided to blog about this case because this case illustrates the best about our criminal justice system, what goes on behind the scenes in thousands of cases all over the country every day, where defense lawyers AND prosecutors use their best efforts to join to do justice. It also illustrates how simple mistakes can snowball and have disastrous consequences. In this case justice was ultimately done, and in the end, although it took a lot of effort, everyone won.
If you are facing criminal or traffic charges in Maryland state or federal court, call Leonard R. Stamm of Goldstein & Stamm, P.A. at 301-345-0122 for a free consultation.
Leonard R. Stamm
Goldstein & Stamm, P.A.
6301 Ivy Lane, Suite 504
Greenbelt, MD 20770
Author: West's Maryland DUI Law