Crime Scenes: Hale keeps gun permit after BWI incident

Banker accepts probation for taking gun into airport; court rules another man loses his permit for conviction in '83

March 01, 2011|By Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun

Edwin F. Hale Sr. will keep his gun permit even after bringing a loaded .38-caliber revolver into BWI Marshall Airport last month.

Anthony McLean won't get to keep his gun permit, because he was convicted of breaking and entering more than a quarter-century ago.

The two cases have different facts and raise different issues, but they provide a rare — if narrow — glimpse into the secretive gun permitting process in Maryland.

Hale, the well-known head of 1st Mariner Bank and owner of the Baltimore Blast indoor soccer team, never disputed that he had a loaded .38-caliber handgun in his carry-on luggage at BWI Marshall Airport.

He told a reporter he had simply forgotten that the gun was in his briefcase when an agent spotted it at a security checkpoint as he tried to board a plane to Milwaukee on Feb. 4. The 64-year-old executive had a permit for the weapon and didn't pose a threat, so police gave him a summons charging him with interference with security.

"A major oversight," Hale called it.

Within three weeks, Hale was in Anne Arundel County District Court in Glen Burnie accepting probation before judgment. A judge fined him $342.50, and if he keeps his nose clean for a year, the case will be wiped off his record.

Probation before judgment, or PBJ as it's known in courthouses, allows a defendant to essentially plead guilty without having a conviction under Maryland law.

But judges, including one on Baltimore's federal bench, have ruled in recent years that PBJs can be considered convictions for the purposes of administrative sanctions, such as barring a doctor from participating in a government program or even denying someone a driver's license.

All this is moot in Hale's case, because his sentence was not severe enough to bar him from obtaining or keeping a handgun permit. For that, he would have to be convicted of a crime that carries a sentence of at least two years in jail. The maximum penalty in Hale's case: 90 days in jail.

Maryland State Police, which runs the gun-licensing division, said they followed the letter of the law. Within days of Hale's encounter with BWI security, they sent him a revocation letter. State police spokeswoman Elena Russo said the letter is sent to every permit holder who gets arrested or who is "believed to be involved in an offense that could lead to an arrest."

The letter invited Hale to come and chat with police. and Russo said he "immediately came in by himself" with his permit. Meanwhile, state police consulted attorneys who advised that the charges "would not prohibit him from purchasing, possessing or carrying a handgun."

So Hale gets to keep his gun permit. But he doesn't have his gun back yet.

Sgt. Jonathan Green of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police said Hale's gun was sent to the state police ballistics lab for tests, as is routine in all confiscated weapons to determine if they've ever been used in a crime. Once the state returns the gun with a clean sheet, Green said they will return it to Hale.

Anthony McLean's tale is far different.

It appears he'll be losing his gun permit because he was convicted of misdemeanor breaking and entering in 1983, when he was 19 years old. At the time, the maximum penalty was six months behind bars. That changed in 1994, when lawmakers upped the maximum penalty to three years.

Maryland State Police denied McLean's bid to renew his permit in 2008, saying he's now been convicted of a crime that carries a penalty of more than two years in jail. He appealed to the Handgun Permit Review Board, which overturned the state police's decision and said he could have a weapon. A Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge concurred.

The state appealed, and this week the Maryland Court of Special Appeals overturned the judge and the permit board and ruled that McLean's case must be considered with the new penalties.

Legislatures made no provisions to "grandfather" in people convicted when the old penalties were in place.

The court ruled that the state police were correct in denying McLean his gun permit.

"We recognize that interpreting [the law] as we do may seem harsh in this particular situation," the court wrote in its opinion. The judges noted that McLean has lived within the law since his arrest in a quarter-century ago, which they said appeared to be "the product of a youthful indiscretion" and that he "has not abused the right provided to him by that permit … in any way."

But, the court said, "in light of the overall statutory scheme, that does not necessarily render the interpretation illogical, unreasonable or inconsistent with common sense." The judges said that to grandfather in McLean would be unfair to others.

"For example, an individual committing a disqualifying crime after an increase in the statutory penalty would not be permitted to possess a regulated firearm, while an individual committing the same crime before the penalty was increased would be permitted to possess a handgun," the court ruled.

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