Joel William Hammond, 35, of Essex, Maryland, pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute at least 28 grams of cocaine. According to authorities, the Harford County Narcotics Task Force of Harford County, Maryland, received authorization from a Circuit Court County Judge back in February 2020 to intercept wire and electronic communications tied to the drug trafficking operation (DTO). Detectives diverted numerous drug-related communications identifying Hammond as a supply source.
A month after starting their probe, task force officers followed one of the DTO members to Hammond’s home and observed members making contact with Hammond. Following the meeting, DTO members returned to Harford County. Detectives then observed one crewmember meet with several known drug users after meeting with Hammond. They determined that Hammond was, in fact, the source of the supply – which at the time totaled two to three ounces of crack cocaine.
Hammond met with DTO members and drug users at least ten times while under surveillance between March and April 2020. On March 31, detectives intercepted a series of communications indicating a member planned to meet him for crack cocaine. Detectives observed Hammond and the DTO member make contact at Hammond’s residence that same day. As the DTO member returned to Harford County, the Harford County Sheriff’s Office Special Response Team and Harford Narcotics Task Force searched the vehicle.
According to their report, “Officers discovered two plastic bags of a white substances, one of which contained a white rock-like substance that was similar to powder cocaine that had been directly cut off a kilogram of pressed cocaine. It weighed 16 grams. The second bag was an off-white rock-like substance that law enforcement determined to be crack cocaine. The total weight was 41 grams. Both tested positive for cocaine.” On April 22, 2020, officers searched Hammond’s home and seized more crack cocaine.
In pleading guilty, Hammond admitted that anywhere from 112 to 196 grams of narcotics were involved in his scheme. If a judge agrees to the plea agreement during sentencing, which has been set for October 27, Hammond will be sentenced to six years in federal prison.
The plea comes at a time in which President Biden is pushing for sentencing reforms pertaining to low-level crack cocaine offenders. At issue is whether these offenders (who were convicted before Congress changed sentencing guidelines in 2010) are eligible for a reduced prison sentence more in line with reforms made in 2018.
The specific case being reviewed involves Tarahrick Terry, who was convicted in 2008 with possession with intent to distribute 3.9 grams of crack cocaine. The Supreme Court held this month that a low-level crack cocaine offender like Terry is ineligible for a reduced sentence under the Trump-era First Step Act reform law. Lower courts have been split on whether the change applies only to high and mid-level offenders and not low-level offenders.