Maryland criminal defense lawyers have had success recently in negotiating a combination program of community service – plus the stet docket – as an alternative to probation before judgment (PBJ) in Maryland. This approach has its advantages in marijuana cases.
Probation before Judgment, “PBJ” for short, has been the go-to resolution in marijuana cases in Maryland. Codified in Title §6–220 of the state’s Criminal Procedure article, PBJ allows a defendant to serve probation before judgment is entered. If the terms of probation are met, the guilty finding (after plea or trial) is struck and an adjudication of guilt is never entered.
With a PBJ, after 3 years (or soon, if good cause is shown) a client is eligible for expungement. (See Md. Crim. Proc. Art. §10-105).
But PBJ has its drawbacks.
- To get a PBJ, you have to plead guilty, or be found guilt after trial. You admit that you did whatever you are accused of doing. Ouch.
- For federal immigration purposes, the feds don’t care if you got a PBJ or not. To them, you’re guilty as charged.
- For other purposes, such as background checks, security clearances, and employment, PBJ may not do much good either.
The stet docket does not require a guilty plea, or ordinarily, the client saying anything at all. (except to waive your speedy trial rights)
The “stet docket” in an inactive pile of cases waiting to be dismissed. In Virginia, its called “continuation in contemplation of dismissal,” which is a more descriptive term. The case is continued (usually for 6 months) and if nothing bad happens, it will be dismissed. If you pick up a new charge, or fail to fulfill any conditions of the stet, the case could become active again.
The inactive stet docket has another advantage over PBJ. With PBJ, the record showing a finding of guilt stays on your record until you move for expungement, usually 3 years.
This 3 year waiting period for expungement can be problematic. In the past, when court records were kept on paper files in individual courthouses, expungement was an effective solution for permanently erasing someone’s record. The paper file gets shredded.
In the internet age, with shared public databases, and sophisticated data-mining, any information which has been in the public domain for 3 years is probably there for good. You can’t un-ring the bell.
In Montgomery County and elsewhere, including the Rockville and Silver Spring District Courts, community service plus the stet docket is an attractive alternative. The stet docket is an inactive docket, which also offers expungement, but with two important benefits. First, with a stet disposition, the client never has to admit guilt or go through a trial. Because there is no admission of guilt, there is no guilty plea to strike, as there is with PBJ. Because there is never a finding of guilt (as opposed to a finding later stricken), stet can be a better solution.
Second, Maryland law prohibits a judge from giving a PBJ for “a second or subsequent controlled dangerous substance crime.” (see §6-220(d)(2)) So a PBJ “uses up” a client’s one bite at the apple. Of course, every client believes that his first case will be his last, but sometimes it doesn’t work out that way, so it’s good to keep your right to a PBJ for another day if possible.
Kudos to the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s office for negotiating community service + stet dispositions. Now we need the Maryland legislature to follow Massachusetts, New York and 14 other states in decriminalizing possession of personal use marijuana, changing it from a criminal offense to a civil infraction, where the risk of a permanent criminal records is eliminated.