The Baltimore resident pleaded guilty to possession of only 5.9 grams of marijuana hoping that the judge would take it easy on him. But the 31-year-old never imagined he would be sentenced to two decades in prison for an offense so minor.
Now, Hammond has won an appeal Wednesday invalidating that plea. Legal experts say this raises the possibility that he will be released, but does not guarantee it just yet.
Baltimore District Judge Askew Gatewood told prosecutors that “5.9 grams won’t roll you a decent joint” and deceptively suggested that Hammond accept the plea and simply pay a fine.
Just a year earlier he had been convicted for distribution of drugs. Now, because he took the judge’s offer that he “plea and pay a fine,” he found himself in prison for 20 years.
Circuit Judge Lynn Stewart-Mays acknowledged that 20 years was harsh. So she gave Hammond a suspended sentence of that 20 years. She warned that if he violated his probation in any way, he would be locked up until 2028.
In 2013 she followed through on that draconian threat.
But Wednesday, a judge vacated Hammond’s plea due to the fact that Hammond had not been properly informed of his right to counsel, attorney Gabriela Hopkins explained.
“I do think that Judge Nance was sensitive to the overall fairness issue, as well,” she said.
Now, Hopkins says the state really only has two options: prosecutors can either try to charge Hammond all over again, but if they do, they will have a bit of a problem (we’ll get to that), or they can just drop the case.
So what problem will the state run into if they decide to press on?
It’s no longer even a criminal offense in Maryland to have that little marijuana. Instead, you only get a civil citation.
“It’s possible that the state could still bring the case,” she explained. “The counter-argument then is, they’re prosecuting him today on something that is no longer a crime.”
If the state drops the case, however, Hopkins said she will file a motion before Stewart-Mays that will immediately request they revisit theprobation violation. As there will be no conviction there will have been no violation.
Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Brown has not yet suggested which option the state will take.
Hopkins said that Wednesday Hammond was very nervous.
“One of the things he said to me right before the hearing was, ‘If we lose, it’s not over, right?'” Hopkins recalled.
“I told him, ‘We’re going to keep fighting this no matter what. We’re not going to give up on you.'”
After they won, “he just looked up at heaven and said, ‘Thank you,'” she continued. “But I don’t think it fully hit. I think he was overcome.”