Maryland’s top federal prosecutor recently announced the formation of a regional law enforcement task force specifically aimed at arresting and prosecuting carjacking suspects. The formation of this task force comes at a time when carjacking cases have spiked dramatically in Montgomery County, Prince George’s County and Washington D.C. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office the number of carjackings in the region more than doubled from 2019 to 2020, and 2021 is on pace to meet or exceed those numbers. Montgomery County recorded 17 carjackings in December of 2020 alone, and D.C. has recorded 129 cases since the start of 2021. Prince George’s County has also seen a spike in carjackings over the last few years, and has seen juveniles as young as 13 participate in the offenses. Baltimore City was not mentioned in the press release and may not be part of this particular task force, though the feds have already been highly involved with the investigation and prosecution of gun crimes in the city. Carjackings are actually down in Baltimore, though the rate of violent crime is far from satisfactory.
The stated goal of the task force is to ensure prosecution of suspects who engage in carjacking and robbery in multiple jurisdictions. In a press release the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office described challenges to holding multijurisdictional offenders fully accountable for their actions. It is unclear exactly what type of challenges the office is referring to, but it could relate to establishing the requisite proof that a firearm was used in the crime. Carjacking and robbery suspects who are charged days or weeks after the incident are rarely arrested with a firearm in their possession, which leaves law enforcement and prosecutors with the challenge of placing a gun in the hands of the suspect at the time of the crime. While armed robbery and carjacking are serious offenses, they often do not trigger the same minimum mandatory prison sentences as firearm crimes. In Maryland the use of a firearm in a crime of violence such as robbery or carjacking brings a minimum 5-year sentence without parole and a maximum 20-years that can run consecutive to any other sentence imposed. A defendant indicted under federal law may face a minimum 7-year sentence and a maximum life sentence for using, carrying and brandishing a firearm in a crime.
While the idea of state and federal multi-jurisdictional carjacking suppression team sounds like a novel idea, in practice the most important component likely comes down to information sharing and simple communication. Unlike drug conspiracies that require organization and multiple actors working together along the supply and distribution chain, robbery and carjacking are generally unorganized and unsophisticated crimes. They are often carried out by juveniles or young adults with no real criminal plan. This is not to say the crimes are not serious, but rather to make the point that the incidents in different jurisdictions are rarely connected in any manner. Information sharing may not help bring down a ring of carjackers, but it could help with the prosecution of suspects for more serious offenses than what they normally would face. This could mean more federal prosecutions for robbery and carjacking defendants, with stiffer penalties and no parole. Three defendants have already been indicted for carjacking in federal court, with one facing trial in Greenbelt and the other two in D.C.