For the second time in eight years, Carl O. Snowden, current director of the civil rights office in the state attorney general's office, received probation before judgment for drunken driving, and questions have been raised illegalities.
"I'm going to have to figure it out myself," said prosecutor Henry Dove. The Talbot County assistant state's attorney was assigned to the Anne Arundel County case because Snowden, a former Annapolis alderman and aide to the previous county executive, has long been involved in civil rights and politics in the county and had worked with the Anne Arundel prosecutor's office.
Dove said he had no idea that the sentence might be illegal until a reporter from another newspaper contacted him.
State law regarding the granting of probation before judgment changed in 2009. It increased to 10 years the period during which a driver cannot be granted a second probation before judgment in a drunken-driving case.
Probation before judgment, often referred to as PBJ, allows a person to avoid a criminal conviction if the terms of probation are successfully completed.
"I didn't realize it — It's been five years for so long. Nobody in that courtroom knew it had been changed to 10 years. If they did, nobody brought it up," Dove said.
Snowden's attorney, Alan H. Legum, refused to comment.
"I cannot talk to you about any case, as much as I'd like to," said Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Ronald A. Silkworth, who granted Snowden the PBJ.
Raquel Guillory, spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, said that it would be up to the parties involved in the case to seek a correction if they believe something was done wrong. "We don't have anything to do with that. That's the court there — it's not our case."
Asked whether the case would have an impact on Snowden and the job he has held for about four years, Guillory said that she could not discuss a personnel issue. Snowden also heads the board of the Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis.
Lawyers not involved in the case said it might return to Silkworth's courtroom, but it is unclear what might the result might be.
"It's an open issue," said Greenbelt lawyer Leonard R. Stamm, author of a book on the state's drunken-driving laws. "The state can argue that it's illegal. The state could appeal to the Court of Special Appeals. The state could move to correct an illegal sentence. I would make an argument that the state was required to file a notice that they intended to treat him as a subsequent offender."
The judge can move to bring Snowden back to court to correct an illegal sentence, though either the prosecution or defense can also ask the judge to do that, said Peter S. O'Neill, a lawyer in Glen Burnie.
"The case will have to be reset for another sentencing," he said.
But he doubted that a new sentence could include jail time because an argument could be made that it would illegally increase punishment.
"The typical sentence in Anne Arundel County for a second offender would generally be a weekend or multiple weekends in jail," O'Neill said. More jail time generally is suspended.
An Anne Arundel County police officer reported seeing Snowden's car weaving in the southbound lanes of Interstate 97 near Farm Road in Crownsville on June 8, and drunken-driving charges were filed.
Last week, Snowden pleaded not guilty before Silkworth, but did not dispute the facts the prosecutor read into the court record.
Giving Snowden PBJ, Silkworth placed Snowden on three years' probation, the first year supervised. He also fined Snowden $250 with another $250 suspended. Dove did not recommend a sentence and related charges were dropped.
Snowden also received PBJ in a 2003 drunken-driving case. A 2005 drunk-driving charge was dismissed.