Saying the recent granting of probation before judgment for a drunken-driving charge was an illegal sentence, a special prosecutor is asking an Anne Arundel County judge for a new sentence for the director of the civil rights office of the Maryland Attorney General's Office.
In mid-November, Carl O. Snowden was given probation before judgment on a drunken-driving charge for the second time in eight years. The advantage to probation before judgment, or PBJ, is that it allows a person to avoid a conviction if the terms of probation are successfully completed.
But under changes made to state law in 2009, a person can be granted only one PBJ every 10 years in drunk-driving cases.
Questioned by two newspaper reporters about the legality of Snowden's sentencing, Talbot County Assistant State's Attorney Henry P. Dove said he did not know the law had changed — previously one PBJ was allowed every five years in such cases — and that apparently neither Snowden's attorney nor the judge knew either.
Dove said he has since researched the issue.
"In my opinion, the sentence was illegal," he said.
This was Snowden's third drunken-driving arrest. He received PBJ in a 2003 drunken-driving case, and a 2005 charge was dismissed.
Dove filed a request late Monday to correct the sentence, and Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge Ronald A. Silkworth scheduled a hearing for Jan. 13. Dove declined to say what sentence he plans to seek and would not comment further on the case.
Snowden's lawyer, Alan H. Legum, was unavailable for comment. Snowden, a former Annapolis alderman and aide to the previous Anne Arundel County executive before accepting his current job four years ago, did not return a telephone message. Silkworth said he could not discuss a pending case.
In an agreement, Snowden had pleaded not guilty Nov. 19 before Silkworth, but did not dispute the account of the June 8 traffic stop that Dove gave in court. Dove did not suggest a sentence, and the judge gave Snowden the PBJ, placing him on probation for three years and fining him $250 with another $250 fine suspended. A psychiatrist whom Snowden had seen about his alcohol use wrote a letter to the judge saying Snowden was unlikely to re-offend.
What actions Snowden could take are unclear. Among his options are asking to withdraw his current agreement. For a second drunken-driving offense with no injuries, lawyers said, judges in the county typically sentence a defendant to a weekend or two in jail, but Snowden's defense could claim that any jail time would illegally increase his punishment.
The effect a drunken-driving conviction could have on Snowden's job is also unclear. Raquel Guillory, spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, said she could not talk about a personnel matter.
In this case, police reported seeing Snowden's car weaving in the southbound lanes of Interstate 97 in Crownsville. He took a breath test that showed a blood-alcohol level of 0.09 percent, above the state's legal limit of 0.08 percent for driving under the influence, police said. Drunken-driving and traffic charges were filed.
Dove was asked to handle the case because Snowden previously worked with Anne Arundel prosecutors on several issues.