A 31-year-old man who was sentenced to 20 years in prison in Baltimore after he pleaded guilty to possessing 5.9 grams of marijuana won an appeal Wednesday invalidating the plea — raising the possibility that he will be released.
Ronald Hammond took the plea in the 2012 case after Baltimore District Judge Askew Gatewood told prosecutors that "5.9 grams won't roll you a decent joint" and suggested Hammond accept the plea and pay a fine.
Soon after pleading, Hammond was called back to court and informed that his plea violated the terms of his probation for a prior conviction for distribution of crack cocaine.
Circuit Judge Lynn Stewart-Mays had given Hammond a suspended sentence of 20 years in that case, and warned that he would face the whole term if he violated the probation. She made good on that warning in 2013.
Hammond now has an expected release date of 2028. But his victory before Chief Judge Alfred J. Nance on Wednesday could get him out a lot sooner, his attorney said.
Nance vacated Hammond's pot plea based on the argument that Hammond had not been properly informed of his right to counsel when Gatewood suggested he take the deal, attorney Gabriela Hopkins said.
"I do think that Judge Nance was sensitive to the overall fairness issue, as well," she said.
With that decision, Hopkins said, the state has two options.
In one scenario, prosecutors could try to charge Hammond anew. But that might be difficult, because possession of 5.9 grams of pot is no longer a criminal offense in Maryland, but a violation that can be settled with a civil citation.
"It's possible that the state could still bring the case," she said. "The counter-argument then is, they're prosecuting him today on something that is no longer a crime."