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Articles Posted in Theft Crimes

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swimmers-79592_960_720Whether you love or hate the Olympics, most people would agree they were beginning to run their course. The past three weeks were filled with inspirational stories and domination by a pair of Maryland athletes, but Rio also produced its share of bizarre incidents and conspiracies. The latter seemed to steal many of the headlines, which is not surprising considering our appetite for scandals. No single event, including record setting performances on the track or in the pool, generated more news headlines than the American swimmers’ run in with an armed gas station security guard. At first it was reported that the swimmers were targeted by police impersonators and robbed at gunpoint, which was odd considering the alleged victims still had possession of their cell phones and jewelry. Then it was reported that the entire story was made up, and the swimmers were never robbed. While we still don’t have every detail, there are enough facts out there to generate a legal discussion about what crimes where actually committed that night. To keep the discussion relevant we will act as if the incident happened in Maryland, as the Blog does not claim to be an expert in the criminal laws of other states, much less other countries.

It seems fairly clear that the swimmers engaged in some sort of criminal activity before they were confronted by employees of the gas station. Whether their actions would have actually resulted in arrest or prosecution is debatable, but based on the evidence the swimmers could have been guilty of at least three criminal violations. Urination in public is illegal in Maryland, but unlike other states that have UIP laws, there is not a specific state criminal statute that addresses this conduct. Some local governments such as Prince George’s County have ordinances that cover this act, and in PG County it happens to be a civil citation. In order for an officer to arrest a person under state law for relieving themselves in public, he or she would have to charge the suspect with indecent exposure under section 11-107. This is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum three-year sentence, and is obviously a criminal charge that would look horrible on anyone’s rap sheet. A police officer could also arrest someone for using a public transportation vehicle as his or her own personal bathroom, which is a misdemeanor that carries a 90-day jail sentence under section 7-705 of the transportation code. It is unclear whether the swimmers actually damaged any property, but if they did then destruction of property and or disorderly conduct charges could follow.

While we do not know exactly what happened in or around the bathroom, it is absolutely clear that the swimmers became robbery victims at some point in the night. Robbery is a simple crime to define; it’s an unlawful taking of someone’s property with force. Many people can think of it as a theft plus an assault. If you throw a weapon into the equation you are left with an armed robbery, and if that weapon happens to be a working operable firearm then there could be an additional charge for using a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence. The gentleman that pulled a gun on the swimmers and demanded money without a doubt committed an armed robbery. If there were others standing next to the gun toting security guard then they too committed an armed robbery. There are very few valid legal defenses to a crime such as this, and none would apply here. The “security guard” was not acting in self-defense or the defense of others, and he certainly was not under duress. If this incident had happened in Maryland the man with the gun and any accomplices would have been arrested and charged with upwards of three felonies. Our government would have issued an apology to the admittedly foolish swimmers rather than extort them out of $11,000.

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pokemon-1543354_960_720A little over one month after its release the Pokémon Go craze is still in full effect across America. The interactive smartphone game app recently surpassed 100 million downloads since early July, and now the average smartphone user spends more time playing the game per day than they do browsing Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The app generates over $10 million per day in revenue for Apple, Google the developers, and has been praised for motivating players to take to the streets and be active. The app has also generated its fair share of criticism though for distracting drivers hunting for Pokémon while in the car, and causing pedestrians to be so engaged in the game that they disregard their surroundings and injure themselves. In addition, the game has encouraged computer hackers to develop fake versions containing viruses and malware that can affect Android phones. But perhaps the most concerning consequence of the game’s popularity is that it has turned users into potential victims of theft and robbery.

Last week the University of Maryland Police arrested a young man suspected of robbing three college students within an hour while they were playing Pokémon Go on campus. The man allegedly used a feature in the game that locates other players using the phone’s GPS. Police released video surveillance of the suspected robber and he was apprehended about two weeks later. The suspect’s home was searched after his arrest and detectives confiscated evidence, which supported charges including four counts of armed robbery and other counts of theft and first and second-degree assault. The 22 year-old defendant is scheduled for a preliminary hearing later this month at the Prince George’s County District Court in Upper Marlboro, and his defense will be tougher given the fact that he is not a first time offender; he was convicted of theft in Allegany County a little over three years ago. Although none of the victims were injured and it does not appear that a firearm was used in the alleged robberies, the Pokémon robber still faces a battle to avoid a lengthy prison sentence.

While these Pokémon robberies in College Park appear to be isolated incidents carried out by one individual, they are not the first and probably won’t be the last around the country. Four men were recently arrested in Missouri for robbing Pokémon Go players at gunpoint, and other similar thefts have been reported in Texas and California. Although the game has created a criminal opportunity for thieves and robbers, smartphones in general have long created opportunity for robbers who tend to pray on those who seem too engulfed in their phone to be aware of their surroundings. The message from law enforcement is not to stop playing the game, but rather to look around and be aware, especially while walking around at night. The Blog will continue to follow this Prince George’s County case, and other crimes involving Pokémon Go. We may post a follow up article in the future so stay tuned.

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motocross-1461530_960_720Police officers in the Baltimore and D.C. metropolitan area have been trying to crack down on illegal dirt bike riding for years, but have little to show for their efforts. It seems this brand of illegal riding is as popular as ever, as it’s hard to take a daytime drive around the city without encountering a group of teenagers and young adults popping dirt bike wheelies in the street. The riding has become a nuisance for motorists and residents in the area, and police have responded by citing or arresting the riders and confiscating their bikes. This has been an ongoing thorn in the side of the police, but the problem has not really risen to a critical level until recently. The heightened concern is not only due to an increased amount of injuries to pedestrians and the riders themselves, but also the astronomical rise in the number of dirk bike thefts being reported in the metro area. It seems that urban riding has become so popular that it has created a lucrative illegal market for the bikes, which can in some instances cost as much as a car. Numerous thefts have been reported in Montgomery County, Frederick County, and in Baltimore City. The thieves have become organized and determined, sometimes following actual dirt bike riders home from the track, or researching where they live. One professional rider in Montgomery County had two bikes stolen from his house with an estimated total value of over $25,000.

In addition to becoming organized and determined, the market for bikes has caused some brazen behavior from thieves. Recently a group of young men actually broke into the Baltimore City impound, where bikes confiscated by police are stored. This group of ten young men were met by an unarmed security guard who could do little to stop the thieves other than call for backup. Six of the young men were arrested, but the other four got away with stolen property. One of the thieves allegedly flashed a handgun to the security guard as he gave chase. Outrage from the community and frustration from the police department has prompted the creation of a special police dirt bike task force to combat illegal riding in Baltimore City streets. This will undoubtedly lead to more arrests and more confiscated bikes, but as the popularity of street riding explodes it seems we are far from seeing an end to this activity.

The Blog will continue to follow cases involving illegal street riding in Baltimore and the surrounding areas. We will also follow cases of dirt bike theft as well. Those arrested for stealing dirt bikes will face the charge of motor vehicle theft, which is a felony with a maximum penalty of five years in jail. These defendants could also face felony theft over $1,000 and burglary charges.  Many of the defendants are actually juveniles, and based on their age they could be tried as adults.  The riders often face numerous traffic offenses such as driving an uninsured vehicle, driving without a license, and driving an unregistered motor vehicle. Some traffic charges related to illegal street riding carry jail sentences, expensive fines and points, which can lead to valid licenses being suspended by the MVA. Benjamin Herbst is a Baltimore criminal defense attorney who handles motor vehicle theft and burglary cases in all state and federal courts in Maryland including juvenile criminal court. Contact Benjamin for a free consultation about your case at 410-207-2598.

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yellow-690532_960_720Anne Arundel County Police have reported that five teenagers were arrested for attempting to steal a taxi cab in Pasadena just before midnight this past Monday. Officers responded to a call for help after a cab driver reported he was involved in a verbal dispute with the five juveniles. The argument escalated after one of the teens took the driver’s cell phone. As the cabbie attempted to take back the phone, another teen jumped into the driver’s seat of the cab and attempted to take off. The cabbie then shifted his focus from the stolen phone to the car, and was able wrestle control of the wheel away from the juvenile offender. The five teens, all ages 15 or 16, then fled the scene in different directions with the cabbie’s phone. Several police officers arrived on scene, including two Ann Arundel County Police K9 units and one Maryland State Police K9 unit, to investigate and locate the suspects. All five were later found hiding in the surrounding area and were arrested. Four of the juveniles were from Pasadena and one was from Baltimore.

Each of the juveniles was charged via citation with three criminal offenses including theft, 2nd degree assault, and unlawful taking of a motor vehicle. They were released to their parents after the booking process concluded. The five teenagers will now be brought through the juvenile criminal justice system, which will begin with an intake hearing with an officer from the Department of Juvenile Services. These intake hearings occur in the various offices of DJS, and are not held in court. An intake hearing is an informal setting where one of three outcomes is possible. After speaking with the juvenile, the parents and the juvenile’s attorney, the DJS officer can close the case and issue a warning, which is the best possible outcome for the juvenile. If the officer feels the facts of the case are too serious for a simple warning, he or she can choose to keep the case open and place the juvenile on informal supervision for 90 days. This option allows DJS to maintain some sort of authority over the juvenile without sending the case to court. The third option is for the DJS officer to recommend that the case be handled in the circuit court where the offense is occurred. The state’s attorney’s office would then take control of the case and file a petition for delinquency with the juvenile clerk.

The decisions of the intake officer are not always final. The victim, which in this case would be the cab driver, could appeal if for example he is unsatisfied that the case was not forwarded to the state’s attorney. The state’s attorney’s office could also choose to file a petition with the circuit court if they feel informal supervision is inadequate. Typically felony charges end up in the circuit court, so it is likely that at least one of the five juveniles will have their case heard in an Annapolis courtroom. Unlawful taking of a motor vehicle is a felony, as is theft over $1,000. All juvenile cases are under seal and not available to the public, so the Blog will not be able to post a follow-up on these cases, but keep checking back for criminal law news around Maryland.

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home-1331633_960_720The Baltimore County Police have reported the arrest of two men in connection with a string of package thefts in a single family home development in Pikesville. Residents in the area of Smith Avenue and Greenspring Avenue have been noticing missing packages for the last couple of weeks, but many never suspected wrongdoing. Some residents even took notice of a suspicious vehicle driving slowly through the new construction development, but did not make the connection to missing packages.  Eventually the area residents and the county police caught wind of the ongoing conspiracy and went on high alert, and their vigilance paid off. Two suspicious men in reflective vests were reportedly seen removing packages from the front porches of houses, and then leaving in a dark colored SUV. Information about the dark SUV spread quickly, and when the men returned a neighbor followed them to get a closer look at the license plates. Armed with the license plate information it was only a matter of time before county police found and arrested their suspects.

The two suspects were charged with seven counts of fourth degree burglary and seven counts of theft less than $1,000. The 25-year old defendant was released on a $25,000 bail, while the 47-year old defendant is still being held on a $20,000 bail. Each count of burglary likely matches up with a corresponding theft count to represent one act, so it appears that there were seven individual crimes. Under state law a defendant can be convicted of burglary and theft at the same time for one criminal act. Theft less than $1,000 is a misdemeanor with an 18-month maximum sentence while 4th degree burglary under section 6-205 is a misdemeanor with a 3-year maximum jail sentence. Fourth degree burglary is the catchall burglary charge in Maryland, which means there are wide ranges of factual scenarios that fall under the statute. It includes breaking and entering a house or any type of building, and also entering the property of another with the intent to commit a theft. Unfortunately for the two suspects, property of another includes the yard, garden and porch.

If the facts of the these package thefts turn out as they were reported by police then prosecutors will have little trouble proving the burglary charges. Some of the theft charges may have to be reduced to less than $100, especially considering one alleged victim reported that all that was taken from her was a box of coffee. But with a total of seven different incidents to choose from it seems like these defendants are headed toward a plea, as the state basically has seven shots at a conviction. As with any burglary case though, identity is always the key issue. The best way for a lawyer to defend the case at trial would be to challenge the state’s ability to prove who actually took the packages. There is little chance that any of the alleged victims know the defendants personally, and they were not caught in the act. The state’s case would then come down to in-court identifications plus any circumstantial evidence that police have gathered. The Blog will follow these cases, and may post an article about their resolution in the future.

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jaguar-1366978_960_720The Baltimore Police Department is warning motorists of the rising threat of armed carjackings presently occurring throughout the city. These incidents have taken place in record numbers in areas such as Homewood near John’s Hopkins and in the Brooklyn and Cherry Hill areas of south Baltimore. Most of the cases appear to be carried out by two or more individuals who initiate a minor fender bender on city streets. As the unsuspecting driver exits his or her car, one of the individuals from the accident-initiating car exits and confronts the driver. Many times the co-conspirators have used physical force to neutralize the driver before stealing his or her vehicle. Other times the robbers have used the threat of force such as brandishing a weapon to prevent the driver from resisting. Either way these incidents have caught the eye of city police officers, and have prompted the department to issue media warnings to motorists.

Police spokesmen have advised anyone involved in a minor traffic accident to stay in their vehicle with the doors locks and to call 911 immediately. The main message from police is that personal safety is far more important than properly exchanging insurance information for a claim. If handled correctly the thieves likely will either abort their criminal plan or flee the scene. Through the first four months of 2016 city law enforcement has documented 110 carjacking robberies compared to 75 during the first four months of last year. Standard automobile thefts are also up almost 20 percent so far this year, with 1,359 being reported as of April 30. The use of any type of physical force during the act of stealing a car will trigger charges for carjacking, which is a serious violent felony that carries a 30-year maximum jail sentence under section 3-405 of the Maryland Code. If a firearm is used the defendant faces an additional mandatory 5-year sentence. Just as in any robbery case, even the threat of force is enough to trigger a felony charge over a standard theft charge. This is true regardless of whether the culprit has the ability to actually carry out the threat, as all that matters is whether the victim reasonably believed the robber could follow through.

Advancements in anti theft technology in most new cars have resulted in a steady trend of decreasing automobile theft cases. In 2003 there were over 8,000 incidents, but in the last few years this number has been between 4,000 and 5,000. It appears that this year the number of car thefts will break 5,000 though, so hopefully this does not signal a shift in the recent trend. Motor vehicle theft falls under 7-105 of the Maryland Code, and is a felony with a 5-year maximum penalty.

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prison-370112_960_720The Justice Reinvestment Act is one step closer to becoming law after the Senate voted unanimously in favor of the bill last week. The Act would constitute the most comprehensive Maryland criminal legislation in decades should the governor sign it into law this summer, but first it heads to the House for further debate. There were a few hang-ups since the Blog posted on the Act a couple weeks ago that threatened its viability. These included a disparity in the amount of money the state would stand to save with the reform, and a heated debate on automatic penalties for technical parole and probation violations. But state senators sorted out these hang-ups and ultimately reached a firm consensus on the 96-page mega bill.

The main goal of the bill, which appears conspicuously in the title, is to save the state money by reducing the prison population and then to reinvest the money toward crime prevention. But as the 96-page bill length suggests, it’s not that simple. There is no single way to reduce the prison population because you can’t just decide to release a couple thousand inmates, and you can’t put a cap on how many defendants are sent there in the first place. Each criminal case is factually unique, which is why the trial judge is given almost full discretion on sentencing. In order to reduce the amount of prisoners you have to systematically adjust a judge’s approach to sentencing in the courtroom, and the amount of time a defendant actually serves after he or she is sentenced. Our reading of the mammoth bill leaves the impression that Annapolis lawmakers have developed four main platforms to adjust sentencing approaches.

The most obvious way to reduce the amount of defendants sent to prison is to lower the maximum penalties for the crimes they commit. Lawmakers have made those adjustments in the Act with respect to numerous offenses. They have lowered the maximum punishment for possession of marijuana from 1 year in jail to six months, and have lowered the maximum penalty of simple possession of other drugs from 4 years to 1 year. These other drugs include cocaine, heroin, and prescription pills such as oxycodone. Lawmakers have also lowered the maximum penalties for theft cases, which constitute the second most common class of criminal offenses after drug cases. Keep in mind that in Maryland DUI and DWI are considered traffic offenses despite being classified as criminal in many other states. Under the act, felony theft would require a minimum value of $2,000 instead of $1,000 and the maximum punishment would be cut in half from 10 years in jail to 5. The threshold for enhanced felony theft would rise from $10,000 to $25,000 and the maximum penalty would go from 15 to 10 years. Theft over $100,000 would carry a maximum 20-year sentence instead of the previous 25.

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money-941228__340A 27-year old man from Linthicum has been charged with first degree assault, robbery, and theft after stealing tip jar money from a Glen Burnie restaurant, and the problems for the defendant go way beyond this recent arrest. Ann Arundel police responded to the restaurant around 8 p.m., and after obtaining a physical description of the suspect they began to canvass the area. It didn’t take long before he was located on Ritchie Highway, not far from the scene of the alleged crime. Officers detained the man and took him back to the restaurant where employees made a positive identification. While taking cash from a tip jar is more akin to shoplifting than robbery, the charges do appear to be legally justified not because of the man’s actions, but rather because of his words.

Chances are high that one or more of the charges will be dropped when the case goes to court, though the alleged facts did rise to the level of a robbery and perhaps a first degree assault. As the defendant took the cash he told an employee that if the police were called he would take out his gun and use it. Had he remained silent while looting the jar, the only justifiable charge would have been theft. And based on the fact that there was less than $100 taken it would have been a petty theft with a 90-day maximum jail sentence. But a robbery, generally defined as a theft with force, occurred the second he mentioned the gun. Under Maryland law a verbal threat to cause harm is legally the same as actually causing physical harm with respect to robbery. While a robber who physically hurt someone during his or her crime would in theory face a harsher sentence from the judge, physical harm is irrelevant at the trial stage. It is also irrelevant whether the defendant actually possessed a gun and could carry out the threat, as the issue is whether the victim reasonably felt in danger. The suspect probably never had a gun based on the fact that he was not not arrested with any type of firearm and was not charged with armed robbery.

This robbery arrest is hardly the extent of the defendant’s legal issues because it turns out that he was recently released from jail after serving nearly six months for a sexual offense. Upon his release from the Anne Arundel County detention center the defendant was placed on supervised probation, and faces a lengthy prison sentence should he be found to have violated his probation. The arrest is enough to initiate the violation of probation process, but he can’t be punished unless the state proves that he committed the offense at trial or after a plea. While the state will likely be asking for major prison time if a violation is proven, a reasonable judge should factor in that the defendant never had a gun, and was probably penniless and perhaps even homeless after just getting out of jail.  On the other hand, theft while mentioning the use of a firearm is not something that even the most lenient judge will take lightly.

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lift-81373_960_720While millions cursed the record breaking January blizzard for canceling travel plans, court dates and business meetings, the local ski resorts celebrated every second of it. What started out as a miserable ski season for Maryland and Pennsylvania resorts quickly turned into a moneymaking windfall thanks to the infamous Jonas. But it wasn’t all happy times up in the mountains as two Harford County teens were recently charged with theft at Ski Roundtop. Local police alleged that the two Bel Air boys took rental snowboards from the mountain shop without paying and then rode the ski lifts sans lift tickets. After mountain employees, also known as lifties, caught on to the scam police were notified and reported to the scene. In the past this type of violation would usually result in being kicked off the mountain and possibly banned for the season, but the cops were called to send a message that skiing without a pass is theft, and will be treated as such.

This recent theft is certainly not the crime of the century, or even the crime of the day, but it does call attention to some legal issues that are important to understand. It is clear that nothing was actually stolen in the traditional, non-legal sense of the word, as the boys did not remove the snowboards from the resort and likely never intended to do so. If taking the boards was their intention, they certainly would not have stayed on scene to try them out. Rather, the Bel Air teens were charged under the principals of unlawful control of property and theft of services. This case took place in Pennsylvania, but the Maryland theft laws are quite similar in that they criminalize both theft of property and theft of services under the same statute. Had this incident taken place at Wisp for example, the act of skiing without a lift ticket and using a rental snowboard without paying would have violated section 7-104 of our state’s criminal code. This section makes it a crime to use the property of another without permission, and also to obtain the services of another by deception. Sneaking on to the lift without buying a ticket would qualify as the act of deception, and a theft occurred despite the fact that the ski resort didn’t actually lose anything tangible.

Under Maryland law obtaining services by deception or fraud is treated the exact same way as a theft of another’s property. The maximum penalty depends on the value of the services that were unlawfully obtained. In this particular case the total value of the board rental and the lift ticket came up to $105, which would be a misdemeanor theft with a maximum penalty of 18 months in jail. A charge of illegally obtaining services with a value under $100 carries a maximum penalty of 90 days, while unlawfully obtaining services over $1,000 is a felony that starts with a 10-year maximum punishment. Services often do not have a definite value, so police and the prosecution will typically use whatever evidence they get from the victim of the theft. Unfortunately they tend to round up, but a good lawyer should be able to move the arrow in the other direction when the case goes to court.

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snow-storm-926233_960_720Although crime and calls to service were down throughout Maryland during the historic snowstorm, police and firefighters in Baltimore City were still well prepared to respond if called upon during the blizzard. The National Guard supplied both agencies with military style Humvees, and as it turned out they were put to good use. The city fire department was called to assist with a deadly residential blaze, and was aided by a snowplow in arriving on scene. In addition to patrolling the snow packed streets in marked and unmarked SUVs and the occasional Humvee, the police department was also forced to respond to a few crime scenes. During the early morning hours last Saturday, right in the heart of the record-breaking storm, there were multiple break ins including five reported pharmacy burglaries in the Baltimore area. Police made one arrest in a food store burglary, as officers allegedly observed two suspects climbing out of a store window through the blinding snow while on patrol at 3:30 a.m. One of the suspects vanished into the whiteout, but the other was arrested and charged. Unfortunately for the local business owners there were some who saw the epic blizzard conditions as an opportunity to carry out a quick score, which would theoretically be met with less resistance. Police currently have not made arrests in the pharmacy burglaries, and it is unknown whether they have any suspects at this point.

Pharmacy burglaries have become increasingly common around the state, and especially in the Baltimore area. The pharmacies are not targeted for their cash, as it is rarely stored on the premises. Many transactions are paid with credit card or billed directly to the insurance companies, which is the reason why we rarely see a pharmacy being help up in a robbery. Rather, burglars target pharmacies for their valuable inventory. The pills kept in even the smallest independent pharmacies often have aggregate values exceeding $250,000. And while there is little street value for much of the inventory, the narcotics and anti anxiety medications such as Xanax can sell for thousands on the street. The chain pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens are more secure, and the pharmacy is typically located in the back of a larger storefront. Some are open 24 hours and have security on site. But many of the smaller, independent pharmacies are not protected in the same manner. These shops are susceptible to break ins, and can have their narcotics targeted even if they are placed in safes or locked cabinets during the night. The drugs can be hard to identify though, and unless it’s an inside job the burglar will typically need extra the time to sort through the inventory. This is probably why the snowstorm produced five pharmacy burglaries in just one night, as the perpetrators assumed the weather would give them the necessary time cushion to locate their plunder. We will follow these snowstorm burglaries and may post a follow up article if the cops happen to make an arrest.

Benjamin Herbst is a Maryland burglary defense attorney who handles cases in all counties and in Baltimore City. Contact The Herbst Firm at 410-207-2598 for a free consultation about your case.

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