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How Maryland’s “Drug Paraphernalia” Laws Work

Maryland’s drug laws do more than punish people who possess or use certain “controlled substances.” In many cases they also punish individuals who possess so-called drug paraphernalia. The term “drug paraphernalia” is somewhat vague by design. It effectively enables police and prosecutors to charge someone who possesses an otherwise legal item if they can somehow connect it to possible drug use.

For example, a syringe may be classified as drug paraphernalia. So too could a scale, as that could be used to weigh illegal drugs intended for sale. Indeed, even a simple measuring spoon could lead to a drug paraphernalia arrest. The truth is that a drug paraphernalia charge largely depends on context and the surrounding facts of a case. But generally speaking, proximity of alleged paraphernalia to controlled substances tends to be the biggest factor leading to such charges.

Maryland Woman Fined $250 for Syringes, Items Containing Cocaine Residue Found in Car

Another thing to keep in mind is that with respect to a criminal case, the prosecution need not offer any witnesses who can testify the alleged drug paraphernalia was actually used. A jury can infer an intent to use drug paraphernalia, again based on the specific facts and circumstances of a given case.

A recent unpublished decision from the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, Olney v. State, offers a cautionary tale on this point. In this case, a police officer on patrol observed a vehicle exceeding the posted speed limit. The officer decided to initiate a traffic stop. According to the officer, he observed the driver–the defendant in this case–“making sudden movements” and appearing “startled.” The officer proceeded to conduct a normal traffic stop, asking the defendant for her license and registration.

After completing the stop, the officer asked the defendant for permission to search her vehicle. She gave consent and the officer found two syringes, an aluminum can, and a cotton swab in the vehicle’s console. The latter two items later tested positive for heroin residue.

Prosecutors charged the defendant with several counts of possession of drug paraphernalia “with the intent to use it.” The trial court found the defendant guilty and fined her $250. On appeal, the defendant argued that the evidence was legally insufficient to prove any intent to use.

The Court of Special Appeals disagreed. It held that based on the officer’s testimony regarding the defendant’s “sudden and furtive movements” during the traffic stop, the trial court could infer that she knew there was drug paraphernalia in the car. Furthermore, that the recovered items tested positive for drug residue and had not been discarded also permitted an inference that the defendant–the only person in the car–intended to use the paraphernalia again. Although the evidence might have supported another inference, such as that the drug paraphernalia belonged to another person, the appellate court said that did not undermine the validity of the defendant’s conviction.

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This article has been provided by the Law Office of Robert Castro. For more information or questions contact our office to speak to an experienced lawyer at (301) 705-5137.