Beginning on October 1, 2013, there is a mandatory $150 fine for each carton of untaxed cigarettes transported in the State of Maryland. For a subsequent violation, a person is subject to a mandatory fine of $300 per carton of untaxed cigarettes. In addition to the mandatory fines, a person may be sentenced to imprisonment not exceeding two years. Prior to October 1st the maximum fine was $50 per carton of cigarettes and the fine was discretionary. Under the new law, the mandatory fine can be extremely high for those caught transporting multiple cartons of untaxed cigarettes in Maryland. For example, a person transporting a modest 500 cartons of cigarettes would be required to pay a fine of $75,000. Moreover, the cigarettes will be forfeited to the State. In the previous example, this means a loss of cigarettes with a retail value of $32,379. The new mandatory fines in Maryland make the criminal defense of untaxed cigarette cases in Maryland especially challenging. A criminal defense lawyer needs to thoroughly explore and aggressively use all available defenses in a Maryland untaxed cigarette case to try and avoid these hefty fines.
Many people buy cigarettes in Virginia where the state tax on cigarettes is low. They transport these cigarettes to New York where the state tax on cigarettes is high for purposes of resale at a significant profit. The police catch these people transporting the cigarettes through Maryland during traffic stops. These traffic stops are often precipitated by law enforcement surveillance in Virginia. It is a crime in Maryland to transport more than 5 cartons of cigarettes that do not have the Maryland tax stamp unless the person has certain official records for the transportation of tobacco products. Maryland officials like to pretend that this activity defrauds the State of Maryland of tax revenue even though most of these cigarettes are not intended to be sold in Maryland.
Many arrests for transporting untaxed cigarettes in Maryland occur in Worcester County. There are multiple cigarette outlets on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Those transporting cigarettes from the Eastern Shore of Virginia to New York use Routes 113 and 13 as the most direct routes to travel through Maryland. Worcester County is the most southern county on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. The police in Worcster County target vehicles they think are transporting cigarettes for traffic stops. The State's Attorney in Worcester County aggressively prosecutes cigarette cases. Agents of the Maryland Comptroller's Office try to stop vehicles suspected of carrying untaxed cigarettes in Worcester County because they know the State's Attorney and the judges in that county will take these cases seriously. These stops are now a big source of revenue for the State of Maryland because of the hefty mandatory fines.
The Maryland Legislature apparently believes that the offenders transporting untaxed cigarettes have deep pockets. However, in my experience most of the people caught transporting untaxed cigarettes are in desperate financial straights. They are trafficking cigarettes because they have no other source of income. They are often just runners for someone else. Moreover, all of their savings are often spent purchasing the cigarettes that are then confiscated by the government. They don't have the means to pay fines in the tens of thousands of dollars. It is yet to be seen what the judges will do to offenders when they fail to pay these exorbitant fines but jail sentences are a distinct possibility.
In conclusion, the stakes are much higher on the Eastern Shore of Maryland for those caught transporting untaxed cigarettes. This makes it even more important that defendants in untaxed cigarette cases in Maryland retain an experienced, aggressive defense attorney to represent them.