Altering or removing a serial number on a firearm is not a crime in Maryland. At least for the time being. Turns out, when the laws were changed in 2003, a “clerical error” rendered the prior law invalid, making the crime not a crime at all.
According to the Washington Examiner, the Maryland Supreme Court overturned a man’s conviction after reviewing the law and finding no penalty was outlined for the offense, invalidating it as a criminal offense. The judges said in their finding, “When an individual is convicted pursuant to a charge that does not constitute a crime, that conviction must be reversed and the sentence vacated.”
The courts will likely see some appeals from this matter as those people convicted of altering serial numbers on weapons between 2003 and now would be eligible to have those sentences vacated and their convictions overturned.
Serial numbers on firearms are used to track weapons. Often, stolen guns or those used in the commission of a crime will have the numbers altered, making them impossible to trace. “It’s not like on TV where it’s easy to trace it back to the owner. This could make it more difficult for prosecutors at the state level,” said senior attorney for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence Daniel Vice.
The case that brought this flawed law to the attention of the courts was one where the defendant had been convicted on a multitude of charges. Although this one was overturned, his other convictions are still valid.
Lawmakers in the state are expected to change the law and get it back in working order by this fall. It’s also important to note that altering the numbers on a firearm remains a federal offense. Even though the state of Maryland can’t charge you with this violation, the federal government can.
Gun laws in Maryland are otherwise fairly serious. Unlawful carrying of a handgun, for instance, carries a mandatory minimum 30 day sentence and up to 3 years in prison. This is one of the least stringent gun laws in the state; a second offense of this crime has a minimum 3 years in prison.
When you are facing gun charges, the likelihood that a clerical error was made is slim to none. More than likely, you will be charged with a legally sound crime and it will be up to you and your defense attorney to contest those charges in court.
If you’ve been charged with a weapons offense in the state of Maryland, contact me today for a consultation.