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Harford judges not discouraged by AG ruling when it comes to setting high bails

An Aberdeen man charged with driving under the influence of alcohol is being held in the Harford County Detention Center on no bail because of his prior criminal record, which includes a 30-year-old conviction for murder.

Robert Allen Shepard, 58, is one of three people District Court Judge Mimi Cooper ordered held in jail on no bail during Friday's bail review hearings, based on their criminal histories and the nature of the charges they are facing.

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Maryland court officials are reviewing whether local judicial officers are setting bails that are too high for low-income defendants to pay to get out of jail and guarantee they will show up for trial, but that hasn't deterred judges in Harford from setting high bails at their discretion.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh issued an opinion in mid-October, expressing concerns that setting an unaffordable cash bail could be unconstitutional. Excessive bails are prohibited by both the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as well as the Maryland Constitution.

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Frosh wrote that neither a judge nor a commissioner may "impose a financial condition solely to detain the defendant." He said those court officers must impose the least onerous conditions necessary to ensure that a defendant shows up for trial and to protect victims and public safety.

John P. Morrissey, chief judge of Maryland's District Court system, advised local judges and court commissioners to set the "least onerous" for defendants who are not released from jail on their own recognizance, or without paying a bond, The Baltimore Sun reported in late October.

Since the opinion, public defenders in Harford have routinely raised the high bail issue when arguing on behalf of people appearing at District Court bail reviews.

Danger, flight risk

The three defendants who were before Cooper Friday in Bel Air had cash bails of varying amounts, or they were already being held on no bail. Cooper ordered all of them held on no bail because they presented either a danger to the community or a flight risk.

Brittany N. Rose, 21, of Joppa, is charged with importing meth into Maryland from China. Also charged is David Michael Boemmel, 27, who police said allegedly went to receive the drugs from Rose.

Shepard, who had been convicted of murder, was being held in the county jail on $3,000 bail on charges of driving under the influence, driving while intoxicated, driving with a suspended license and driving with a revoked license, which stemmed from an Aug. 14 traffic stop in Salisbury.

According to jail intake logs, he was arrested by Aberdeen Police on Dec. 1. Aberdeen Police Department spokesperson Sgt. C. William Reiber said Tuesday he was not 100 percent certain of the charges against Shepard, because Reiber did not have the arrest record available, adding: "We did lock him up though." There are no pending Harford County cases against Shepard listed in online court records.

Shepard faces other traffic charges from the same Wicomico incident, including failure to stop at a stop sign, failure to obey traffic control device instructions, reckless driving, negligent driving and failure to display his registration on command, according to online court records.

He had failed to appear in court regarding those charges, according to records.

The Aberdeen Police Department said it has charged Aaron Swanson, 19, a Tier III registered sex offender, with rape and other sex offenses after investigating a complaint made on Dec. 1.

Joel Muneses, an assistant state's attorney, noted during Shepard's bail review hearing in District Court Friday that Shepard has had a number of brushes with the law, going back to a conviction for first-degree murder in 1986.

A search of his criminal history in Maryland does not reveal any murder convictions, but he has had a series of criminal and traffic offenses dating back at least to January of 2001 in Baltimore City, Harford County, Wicomico County and Worcester County.

His most recent criminal conviction was for disorderly conduct in Wicomico County in August of 2014, according to online court records.

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Cooper said Shepard be held without bail, based on his prior record.

'Multi-state offender'

Cooper also ordered a Washington, D.C. woman, Cherylneshia Ann Alexander, 25, be held in the Harford County jail on no bail, since she has faced criminal charges and convictions in other states, plus the District.

Alexander is being held in Harford County after she was arrested last Thursday on two theft cases dating to late 2014 and early 2015. Her initial bail was $25,000 in each case.

Maryland's chief district court judge instructed judges to impose the "least onerous" conditions on a defendant when determining bail.

The first indicant happened in August of 2014 in Worcester County; she faces two counts of stealing another person's credit card, three counts of charging purchases to another person's credit card, theft with a value of less than $1,000, theft between $1,000 and $10,000 and theft-scheme, according to online court records.

A warrant was issued for her arrest Dec. 3, 2014, but it was not served until last Thursday, according to court records.

She faces two counts of theft less than $1,000 in the second case. The incident happened Nov. 29, 2014, in Harford County; a warrant was issued Jan. 15, 2015, and it was served last Thursday, according to records.

She is scheduled to go on trial in the second case Jan. 17, 2017, in Harford County District Court in Bel Air.

Alexander's public defender, Andrew Geraghty, said his client has two children, ages 3 and 5, and she is unemployed, but attending trade school. He said she has family connections in Maryland, and she has no prior convictions in this state, so he asked for a "substantial reduction" in the bail.

Muneses called Alexander a "multi-state offender," noting prior theft and burglary convictions in other states, such as a conviction for grand larceny in Virginia in 2011, as well as a pending hit-and-run and aggravated assault case in Washington, D.C.

Cooper noted Alexander had been arrested in New Jersey with items she had stolen from a victim in Harford County.

"I make a finding you are an extreme flight risk and an extreme danger to the community," the judge told Alexander.

Judge, public defender disagree

Cooper and Geraghty disagreed on the facts of the case involving 27-year-old Joseph Gerard Lawson, of Baltimore, a convicted felon who has been charged with possessing a firearm.

Lawson has been charged with illegal possession of a firearm, possession of a firearm with a felony conviction on his record, handgun on person and possession of drug paraphernalia. The charges stem from a Nov, 24 incident, according to online court records.

The state's top lawyer will ask Maryland's judiciary to adopt a rule to ensure that defendants are not kept in jail simply because the can't afford bail.

Geraghty argued that "it is not a particularly strong case" against his client, which is based on a person reporting to police that Lawson had a gun.

The attorney noted Lawson is a father of two and works as a machine operator and forklift operator.

"He is working to pay his rent," Geraghty said. "He's supporting his two children."

Muneses listed several prior criminal convictions for Lawson, including for first-degree assault in 2005, assaulting a Department of Corrections staffer in 2007 and drug distribution in 2009.

Cooper said she "must respectfully disagree" with Geraghty, based on her reading of the statement of charges in the current weapons case.

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"I greatly appreciate your advocacy for your client," Cooper said.

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Cooper said she found the description of the incident, when the gun was reported to police, "quite chilling."

The judge said the complainant made the report "at such an extraordinary peril to herself."

Lawson, who appeared for his hearing via video link from the jail, dropped his face in his hand as Cooper read that he had threatened to kill the complainant, her boyfriend and daughter, if she did not return his gun.

"I make a finding you are an extraordinary danger to the community," Cooper said of Lawson.

He was being held on no bail after his arrest, and Cooper ordered him to remain on no bail.

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