Carl O. Snowden, the civil rights chief for the state attorney general, was found guilty Tuesday on a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge after being found in April in a car that police said reeked of the drug.

Judge Michael W. Reed sentenced Snowden, 59, on the spot to a 60-day suspended prison term and a year's probation with drug and alcohol screening, and ordered him to repay court costs. He will have an opportunity after successfully completing the year's probation to overturn the conviction.

Snowden had been in the car with another man, and denied using marijuana that day.

"I respect the decision of the jury," Snowden said shortly before the verdict was rendered, but added, "I was surprised by the ruling because as testified by the officers, there were no drugs found on me."

Officers testified that they smelled the marijuana 10 feet away from the car, which was parked in Druid Hill Park. They said they saw a brown cigar containing what they thought was marijuana and searched Snowden and Anthony Hill, who was sitting in the passenger seat. They found a bag containing more of the drug on Hill.

Hill, 29, a convicted felon on the state's sex-offender registry, was charged along with Snowden and found guilty in June. Hill was arrested by the same police officers the next month and charged again with marijuana possession.

Snowden offered no explanation of why he was in the car with Hill.

"I don't want to go into that," he said after the sentencing.

Neither Hill nor his attorney could be reached for comment.

Prosecutor Deniece Robinson recommended a slightly stiffer sentence, pointing to Snowden's record, which includes a driving-while-impaired conviction that Snowden is appealing and probation before judgment in a case that has since been removed from his record.

"He's had two prior opportunities to maintain a clean record," Robinson said. "That has not been a deterrent enough."

Stuart O. Simms, Snowden's attorney, pointed to his client's long record of public service and promotion of civil rights.

Snowden himself said after being sentenced that he had been the victim of an "overzealous prosecutor who was seeking headlines." He compared his case to that of Owen Bernstein, the son of Baltimore State's Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein, who had a second-degree assault charge against him dropped in October.

"The question is whether or not there's disparities in the criminal justice system," he said.

Mark Cheshire, a spokesman for the state's attorney's office, said the assault case was handled by an outside prosecutor, and declined to comment further on Snowden's claims.

Snowden is on paid leave from his job at the attorney general's office, having announced that he would temporarily step down the day after the drug arrest. His attorney said at the time that he was taking the leave in order to pursue a lawsuit against Anne Arundel County and did not mention the criminal charge.

The attorney general's office declined to comment on how the drug conviction would affect Snowden's position.

"We respect the jury's decision," said David Paulson, a spokesman for the office. "In terms of what happens next, this is a personnel matter and we have not yet had the opportunity to discuss it with Mr. Snowden."

Reed, who pointed out his professional relationships with both Snowden and his attorney, Simms, before the trial began, told Snowden what he said he tells everyone sentenced in his courtroom, admonishing him to stay out of further trouble.

"It is very important you comply with what parole and probation tell you," he said. "Don't let it get to the point where I get any reports."

iduncan@baltsun.com