Maryland’s Highest Court Reviews Constitutionality of Criminal Counterfeiting Statute

A criminal arrest or charge is a serious matter that must be addressed accordingly. A defendant has much to lose in a criminal case, including his or her freedom, reputation, and future. There are many ways that one may respond to a criminal arrest, from raising a strong and solid defense that negates the crime to setting forth arguments that could serve to reduce the severity of the charges. In some cases, the defendant’s attorney may even argue that the law under which the person was charged is unconstitutional for one reason or another. While these arguments are not very common, they do occur, and, in some cases, the defendant is successful. If you have been arrested or charged with a crime, it is imperative that you contact a local Maryland criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. An experienced lawyer can help to protect your rights and prepare a defense strategy that suits the circumstances.

In a recent case, the highest court in Maryland reviewed a criminal defendant’s challenge to the state’s trademark counterfeiting statute. According to the facts revealed at trial, during a traffic stop of defendant’s vehicle, the police found 206 DVDs in the car. An investigator on the case testified – as an expert in the field of counterfeit DVDs – that all of the DVDs found in the vehicle contained “numerous counterfeit marks” and were considered “counterfeit reproductions” of movies on DVD. Defendant testified that he was a licensed vendor and authorized by the state to sell the items.

A jury convicted defendant of violating CR 8-611. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, with all but one year suspended (consecutive to other sentences). He appealed, but the court of special appeals affirmed. This Court granted certiorari to review the defendant’s claims that the statute was unconstitutional on two separate grounds:  that it is facially overbroad, and that it is facially void-for-vagueness. The court initially pointed out the purpose of Section 8-611. It criminalizes the display or distribution of goods that bear, or are identified by, a counterfeit mark, only if the goods have retail value. The Court further explained that the law does not criminalize the mere display or distribution of goods that have no retail value, and that are not intended to be sold.

Defendant argued that the statute is facially overbroad because it criminalizes behavior that is protected by the First Amendment right of free speech. He set forth a variety of arguments to support this contention, but the Court of Appeals rejected them all, ultimately concluding (among other things) that the Free Speech Clause does not protect criminal or unlawful activity. Regarding the defendant’s second ground, that the law is facially void-for-vagueness, he claimed that its reach is “almost limitless.” The Court of Appeals pointed out that the statute’s prohibitions must be clearly defined in order to avoid violating the Due Process Clause of the Constitution. Here, the court concluded that the law’s prohibition of certain acts regarding “intellectual property” is clearly defined, leaving no need to guess at the statute’s meaning or application.

The Court of Appeals ultimately held that the statute is neither facially overbroad nor facially void-for-vagueness, thereby eliminating the defendant’s constitutional arguments in this case. This case illustrates the complex nature of setting forth a proper defense in a criminal matter. A person who is charged with a crime is encouraged to seek the assistance of an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.  Anthony A. Fatemi has extensive experience handling criminal defense cases in Maryland.  Our office will work diligently to develop a strong strategy to defend your case. Contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

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