Police give out a lot of citations in Maryland. If you received a traffic ticket, you may not be very worried it will impact your life and liberty. This attitude can be a serious mistake. It’s important to ask the question ‘Do I need a criminal defense lawyer if I received a civil citation in Maryland?’ The answer depends on the circumstances of the case. Many drivers pay fines remotely and move on. However, it’s not always clear to the driver if he or she is facing a civil citation or a criminal citation and thousands of drivers end up with misdemeanor traffic offenses on their records.
It’s often worth taking the time to dispute the citation and to have your day in court. Civil citations are cut and dry. If you just pay the fine remotely, you won’t have the chance to tell a judge it was raining and visibility was poor, you ran a red light seconds after it changed from yellow, or you made sure no traffic was approaching when you failed to stop completely at a stop sign.
It often makes sense to hire an experienced Maryland criminal defense lawyer whether you are facing criminal charges or other types of civil citations.
Are There Reasons to Hire a Lawyer for a Traffic Ticket in Maryland?
Civil traffic violations in Maryland may not carry criminal penalties but they can still result in points assessed against your driver’s license. Points affect your career prospects and cause headaches. In other cases, a police officer may have made a mistake or given you a civil citation when you did nothing wrong. All too often, drivers don’t even bother to fight citations. The may end up with a blemish on their driving record for not taking the time to dispute a citation.
Lawyers make regular appearances in traffic courts. Although it may seem like overkill to hire an attorney for a traffic ticket, there are some good reasons to do so:
- A lawyer may find a technicality in your case. Police often fail to follow proper protocols and rules. A lawyer can discover a police officer stopped you without due cause or get you off on another technicality.
- A lawyer may help you get your fine reduced. Even if you admit you committed a violation, a lawyer can make a case to reduce a fine or persuade the judge to make an alternative resolution such as driving school. A lawyer can emphasize your good driving record. He may be able to articulate the reasons behind the violation in a way you are unable to.
- Prosecutors are swayed by experienced traffic lawyers. An experienced criminal defense or traffic lawyer can sway or even intimidate prosecutors. Traffic courts are fast-moving places with big dockets. A prosecutor is more likely to concede ground to a driver who is represented by an attorney who has done his or her homework.
Civil Citations for Maryland’s Minor in Possession Law
Many of the people who languish in Maryland’s jails got into trouble with the law at an early age. Violating Maryland’s minor in possession laws may not be a criminal conviction but it’s prudent to seek the help of a criminal defense lawyer if you, your son or daughter violates these laws.
Under Maryland statutes, a minor in our state may not consume, possess, or use false documentation to buy alcohol. Minors cannot make false statements about their age or the age of another person to purchase alcohol. Minors who have false identification cards showing an incorrect age may also receive a civil citation.
Citations under the minor in possession law depends on the age of the child or teenager. Cases involving minors under the age of 18 are treated as a juvenile delinquency action. The judge has a very wide discretion to deal with juveniles under 18. They include community service, counseling, and fines. You should ask an attorney about sealing records from subsequent public inspection to protect a juvenile.
Minors aged 18 to 21 often face hefty fines if they receive a civil citation under Maryland’s minor in possession law. They can be fined up to $500. The judge is likely to impose a fine of up to $1,000 for a second or subsequent offense.
Maryland has three exceptions to the minor in possession law. If you or your child receives a citation you should consult a defense lawyer on whether an exception to the rule is applicable. They are:
- Religion – Under Maryland law a minor may possess and consume alcohol as part of a religious ceremony such as Holy Communion.
- Minors in employment – Young people who are employed in businesses that sell or deal with alcohol may control or possess alcohol but are not allowed to consume it.
- The adult family member exception – People under 21 may possess and consume alcohol given to them by an immediate adult family member as long as drinks are consumed on the adult family member’s home or property.
Police officers may not always abide by the exceptions to the rules. Police cannot stop a young person on suspicion of alcohol consumption unless they witnessed a minor in possession of alcohol. The mere fact a minor acts in a drunken fashion is not enough. You should seek legal advice in these cases.
Do I Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer if I Received a Civil Citation for Marijuana Possession?
A Maryland marijuana citation is a civil matter. However, you will only receive a civil citation if police find you with less than 10 grams of the drug on your person. Larger amounts are dealt with as a criminal offense.
Possession of under 10 grams of pot will not result in jail time, an arrest, or a criminal record. However, you should not take a civil citation lightly. A first citation carries a fine of $100. A second carries a fine of up to $250. A third violation can leave you paying up to $500.
People under the age of 21 who are found with under 10 grams of marijuana on their person must still appear before a judge. People over 21 can prepay their fines. The judge may order a drug treatment program as well as a fine for a juvenile. Failure to show up for a court appearance can result in the issuing of a bench warrant and imprisonment for what was originally a mere civil citation.
Adults on their third marijuana citation must also appear in court. A failure to show up for a hearing can result in up to 90 days in jail, a $500 fine or both.
Although the recent change in the law in Maryland means low-level marijuana possession is no longer a criminal offense, you should not be cavalier about a civil marijuana possession citation. It can land you in trouble and facing a big fine.f
Talk to a Criminal Defense Lawyer for Your Civil Citation in Maryland
Even if you ultimately decide to deal with a civil citation in your own, it makes sense to talk to a Maryland criminal defense lawyer. You should discuss your options and be fully briefed on the potential pitfalls of not hiring a lawyer. Call the Baltimore-based lawyers at Rice, Murtha & Psoras at (410) 834-3678.