A veteran Anne Arundel County police officer has been arrested and charged with numerous felony offenses for allegedly stealing from the home of a deceased man in Pasadena. Back in April multiple officers responded to the residence after a report of an unattended death. The officer in question then returned to the house the next day in full uniform, and according to reports took cash and firearms with him. A witness observed the officer removing the firearms from the house, but thought it was routine police activity. The witness never mentioned what he saw until months later when a family member of the deceased homeowner called the department in search of the missing firearms for estate purposes. The department started asking questions and ultimately came across the witness.
Detectives were probably surprised to learn their prime suspect was one of their own, but nonetheless proceeded to hone in on making an arrest. Police executed a search warrant on the officer’s home in Linthicum and he was arrested soon thereafter. The 5-year veteran officer was released on his own recognizance by a district court commissioner after being booked and charged with 6 different offenses including first-degree burglary, felony theft and misconduct in office. He was also charged with third-degree burglary, fourth-degree burglary and felony theft scheme, and has been placed on leave without pay by the Anne Arundel County Police Department. There is currently no preliminary hearing date set for the officer’s case, but regardless it will ultimately be forwarded to the Circuit Court for a resolution.
It is too early to tell whether this case will end up going to trial, but if detectives found the firearms during the execution of the search warrant then a guilty plea is almost a foregone conclusion. While the officer is facing 6 total charges, his attorney will likely argue for the four felonies to be dismissed. The State will probably push for a plea involving the misconduct in office charge, and one additional theft or burglary charge. Misconduct in office is a common law offense in Maryland that does not have a set maximum penalty, but it is considered a misdemeanor. Whether the defense can convince the State to go on misdemeanor fourth-degree burglary remains to be seen, as this would ensure the officer does not end up with a felony conviction.
First-degree burglary and third-degree burglary are both felonies, as is theft and theft scheme over $1,500. Under section 6-202 of the Maryland Code first-degree burglary is defined as breaking and entering a dwelling or home with the intent to commit a theft or a crime of violence. Breaking and entering does not require a suspect to actually break something, but rather it simply means crossing through an opening or passageway into the interior of the home. First-degree burglary carries a harsh 20-year maximum penalty for cases involving theft and a 25-year maximum for crimes involving violence such as first and second-degree assault. Third-degree burglary is a more general statute and only requires the State to prove the defendant broke and entered a dwelling to commit a crime. This version of felony burglary carries a 10-year maximum penalty. Fourth-degree burglary is the most common type of burglary, and occurs when a defendant breaks and enters a dwelling (home) or store, or enters lawfully and then commits a theft. It is also fourth-degree burglary to enter the yard or garden of another person and commit a theft. Under Maryland law fourth-degree burglary is a misdemeanor with a 3-year maximum penalty, and is often used by the State and defense as a middle ground for plea agreements.
The Blog will continue to follow this case and may post a follow-up article as is progresses to the Circuit Court in Annapolis. It will be interesting to see whether the officer receives a harsher punishment than a typical first-time offender would under these circumstances. The misconduct in office charge would certainly justify a harsher sentence, but there could be a host of mitigating factors that we just don’t know at this point.
Benjamin Herbst is a Maryland and Florida criminal defense lawyer who specializes in burglary and theft cases in all jurisdictions in both states. He is available for a free consultation at 410-207-2598 and can explain the elements and the potential defenses for first-degree burglary, third-degree burglary, fourth-degree burglary, theft and misconduct in office.