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How Using a Firearm Can Lead to Stiffer Criminal Penalties in Maryland

Anytime a weapon is involved in a crime, the suspect is likely to face serious criminal charges. Indeed, it is itself a crime to use a firearm in the commission of another crime under Maryland law, regardless of whether or not the weapon is loaded or actually used to injure someone. For instance, if you threaten someone with a gun, you can be charged with both assault and the use of a firearm to commit that assault. In this context, the assault is a “predicate offense” that prosecutors may rely upon to sustain the use of a firearm charge.

Md. Court of Appeals Throws Out Conviction of Man Charged with Firing Gun Into Crowd Outside of Restaurant

The Maryland Court of Appeals recently addressed the issue of whether or not someone may be lawfully convicted of using a firearm to commit a crime that was not charged as a predicate offense in the same indictment. The case, Sequeira v. State, arose from an incident in the parking lot of a Silver Spring strip mall. One morning around 2 a.m., the defendant drove his car through the parking lot while one of his passengers fired a gun out the window. There were several people outside at the time of a restaurant located in the strip mall. None of them were injured by the gunfire.

Prosecutors subsequently obtained a 14-count indictment against the defendant and the gunman. The first 12 counts alleged the defendant committed attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and felony assault against three specific individuals who were standing outside of the restaurant. The remaining two counts charged the defendant with the use of a firearm and conspiracy in the use of a firearm to commit a felony or crime or violence.

After both sides presented their evidence, the trial judge threw out the six counts of attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder. This left the jury to decide the counts for assault and the use of a firearm. Keep in mind, each of these counts alleged the defendant intended to assault a specific person.

The jury returned a mixed verdict. It acquitted the defendant on all three assault counts. But it found him guilty of conspiracy to assault one of the victims as well as the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony or a crime of violence. (Note that conspiracy to commit assault is not itself a felony or a crime of violence.) The court then sentenced the defendant to 17 years in prison.

The Court of Appeals threw out the conviction. The Court explained that since prosecutors charged the defendant with committing predicate crimes against specific victims, the jury could not convict him for the use of a firearm based on the “uncharged predicate crimes against other possible victims.” In other words, because the jury acquitted the defendant of assaulting the specific victims named in the indictment, it could not then convict him of a weapons charge based on the fact his passenger fired a gun into the crowd–a crime for which he was not charged.

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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.