Snowden argues to keep 2nd DUI probation before judgment

His attorneys say prosecutor can't ask judge to correct illegal sentence

December 28, 2010|By Andrea F. Siegel, The Baltimore Sun

The director of the attorney general's civil rights office is trying to keep a sentence that could allow him to avoid a drunken-driving conviction for the second time, a punishment that prosecutors now argue is illegal.

Carl O. Snowden's attorneys wrote in court papers that despite a 2009 change in the law barring more than one probation before judgment every 10 years for drunken driving, other laws prevent Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge Ronald A. Silkworth from increasing Snowden's sentence.

Probation before judgment, or PBJ, is sometimes given to first-time offenders, allowing a defendant to escape a conviction if he satisfactorily completes probation. Eventually, he can ask a judge to expunge the record.

This is Snowden's second probation before judgment in a drunken-driving case in eight years. Before last year's revision to the law, a defendant could receive probation before judgment for drunken driving once every five years. The prosecutor said he wasn't aware the law had changed when he stood before Silkworth.

Silkworth scheduled a hearing for Jan. 13 to consider the prosecutor's request to correct an illegal sentence and Snowden's argument against that.

Before joining the attorney general's office, Snowden, 57, had been an Annapolis city alderman and an aide to former Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens. He was not on official business when accused of drunken driving in June in Crownsville, or eight years ago. A third similar charge, also not on work time, was dropped in 2005.

In a deal in November, the Talbot County prosecutor who was specially assigned to the case agreed not to recommend a sentence to the judge and drop other charges. In exchange, Snowden, pleading not guilty, did not contest the prosecution's account of the facts.

Snowden's lawyer asked for PBJ. Silkworth agreed. He placed Snowden on probation for three years, with the first year supervised, and fined him. After questions arose about the sentence because Snowden had a 2003 PBJ, Henry Dove, the prosecutor, filed a request Nov. 29 that Silkworth correct an illegal sentence.

"To allow the state to participate in sentencing after they have agreed to remain silent would throw the entire judicial system into chaos," Shane Nikolao, an attorney for Snowden, wrote in his motion filed Dec. 17.

He also contended that it would be "unfair to prevent Mr. Snowden from receiving probation before judgment when at the time he accepted his first probation before judgment he did so with the understanding that he would be eligible for another one after five years." His third argument is that court rules say that a sentence cannot be increased.

Lawyers for Snowden declined to comment. Dove could not be reached Tuesday.

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