2021 | Courts

Convicted heroin dealer’s sentence upheld

Montgomery County man was sentenced to 25 years for possession, intent to distribute

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A Maryland appeals court this week upheld the 25-year sentence for a Montgomery County man convicted of possessing heroin with the intent to distribute.

In June 2015, Joseph Eugene Smith pleaded guilty to three possession charges. He had a lengthy criminal history with dozens of other drug charges, according to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, and was sentenced to 25 years in prison without the possibility of parole.

In 2016, the Maryland General Assembly passed the Justice Reinvestment Act, which eliminates mandatory minimum sentences for people convicted as subsequent offenders of some drug offenses. It also allows people who have previously received a mandatory minimum sentence to seek a modification.

In 2018, Smith requested that his sentence be modified, saying he completed several self-help programs and had limited disciplinary problems while incarcerated. He also said he should be released to participate in structured substance abuse programs.

Prosecutors, however, argued that Smith had a 20-year history as a drug dealer, which posed a significant risk to the public.

According to Court of Appeals records, the judge denied the sentence modification request, saying there’s “nothing about any of the evidence or the underlying facts of those … cases that indicated Mr. Smith was using heroin.”

The judge suggested Smith was trying to portray himself as having a drug addiction to be released from prison.

“I have to tell you, Mr. Smith, I don’t believe you. I think you’re a dealer, I think you were a dealer and I think you were somebody who was a purveyor of death to the community,” the judge said, according to the court’s decision. “If I were to grant the relief that you’re seeking here today, it would be a substantial injustice to you because it would allow you to be released to the community to continue to deal drugs.”

Smith appealed the decision to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, arguing that the judge abused their discretion and gave too much consideration to his past, rather than progress he made while incarcerated.

The Court of Special Appeals on Wednesday ruled that the circuit judge acted within their rights and denied Smith’s appeal.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com