Articles Posted in Robbery and Burglary

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pistol-1350484_1280-300x200Two suspects who burglarized a Rockville gun shop last week remain at large, and now law enforcement officers believe they may be linked to another recent burglary in nearby Virginia. Montgomery County police officers were alerted to the crime scene last week by the store’s alarm system at round 4 a.m., and they quickly responded to the Rockville shop to find the door pried open and glass cases smashed. Several firearms were taken from the glass cases as well as from racks behind the counter. In total the store reported more than 30 missing handguns and long rifles. The burglary gained national attention after the entire 90-second spree was captured on two high definition cameras, which were played for television and internet audiences. Both suspects were covered head to toe on black garb, and their faces were covered, thus making visual identification nearly impossible. A small clip of one of the suspects warning the other that it was time to leave the scene is audible and the burglars were allegedly spotted fleeing in a light colored four-door sedan, but there does not appear to be any other identifying information on the pair. There is no word yet whether crime scene investigators were able to recover any beneficial forensic evidence such has hair, skin or shoe samples.

Another gun store was burglarized this week in the same manner, and law enforcement officers are searching for clues as to whether these two smash and grabs are linked. The suspects in the Fairfax County crime were dressed differently, but appear to be similar in stature to the suspects in the Rockville burglary. Montgomery County Police are joined by federal agents from the ATF and Virginia officers in searching for leads to these two burglaries. If the suspects are apprehended they could be prosecuted under state law, federal law or both. Under Maryland state law the actions of the two suspects would be classified as a second degree burglary. There is a special provision under 6-203 of the Maryland code that deals specifically with breaking and entering with the intent to steal a firearm. The maximum punishment for a violation of this section is 20 years as opposed to 15 years for a standard burglary in the second degree. If prosecuted under state law each defendant could face over 30 counts (one for each gun) of second-degree firearm burglary as well as theft and destruction of property charges. With the announced involvement of the ATF though, it is likely that if the case is ever cracked the defendants will have to answer for their actions in the U.S. District Court in Greenbelt.

The ATF reported over 550 burglaries of licensed gun stores nationwide in 2016. This number rose from 377 in 2015, which represents a disturbing increase of over 50 percent. The illegal market for firearms will continue to thrive as states such as Maryland pass stricter limitations on gun possession and legal purchases, and as a result the ATF and local law enforcement could once again have their hands full in 2017.

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police-224426__180The U.S. Attorney recently announced that seven Baltimore City police officers have been indicted on numerous felony charges, and the fallout has already extended beyond the cops’ alleged criminal acts. A federal grand jury returned the indictment back in February, but it was sealed until agents had the opportunity to execute search and arrest warrants. All seven have been arrested and remain in custody after a judge denied bail pending trial. While bail is typically granted for a defendant with no prior criminal record that is not facing a capital offense or violent life felony, prosecutors made the argument that these defendants, who served on the gun trace task force together, were especially dangerous to the public and possessed unique training that would make them flight risks. Defense lawyers for the accused countered by arguing that the charges were blown out of proportion, but the federal magistrate judge was not convinced and stated that no conditions of bail or supervised release would be enough to protect the public.

The charges returned by the grand jury were numerous, and included offenses such as wire fraud, robbery, conspiracy and extortion by a state or government employee. These charges were bundled in one racketeering indictment, which alleged the defendants stole money and drugs from civilians they detained or arrested and submitted fraudulent overtime reports. One of the defendants also allegedly posed as federal prosecutor in order to get more information out of a victim, which the officers subsequently burglarized and stole $20,000 from. Six of the defendants were also charged in a separate seven-count indictment for drug charges including conspiracy to distribute heroin and cocaine, and officer is charged with distribution of heroin resulting in death.

All seven of the accused officers face up to 20 years in prison for the racketeering and conspiracy charges. The six defendants in the drug indictment face even more exposure as antiquated federal drug laws still provide harsher punishments for those that sell drugs than for those that rob, steal from or assault others. Three defendants face conspiracy to distribute more than a kilogram of heroin, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison with a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence. The other three are charged with selling slightly less heroin, but still face up to 40 years with a 5-year mandatory minimum. One of the soon to be ex cops faces an additional 20 years in jail for distributing heroin that results in death.

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money-941228__340-300x225Over the last decade law enforcement agencies around the country have increased efforts to curb the illegal sale of prescription medications. There has been increased governmental oversight starting from the drug manufacturers and trickling all the way down to the patient who fills a single prescription. Pharmaceutical manufacturers are required by law to report large and unusual orders for narcotics to the DEA and pharmacies are required to keep strict inventory of these highly addictive drugs. Doctors who prescribe the drugs face tighter regulations from their state medical boards, and pain management clinics or “pill mills” that were once untouchable are being shut down and prosecuted at a higher rate. Local police have also targeted prescription fraud and doctor shopping cases, and the word is out that pharmacies won’t hesitate to call the cops at the sign of foul play. The law enforcement community has achieved some success in limiting the amount of dangerous prescription drugs such as oxycodone on the streets, but their success has come with a price.

Heroin is now as popular and as cheap as ever, and filled the void left by the shortage of street level prescription drugs without so much as a hiccup. And despite the short supply of prescription narcotics on the street, the demand is still there. Users and dealers have not simply forgotten about oxycontin, morphine and fentanyl. But the shortage of theses drugs has driven up the price and made them more attractive to the dealers who do manage to get their hands on the product. This has left pharmacies, especially the smaller independent type, extremely vulnerable to theft by way of burglary and robbery. Most pharmacy thefts occur at night when the businesses are closed.  The thieves are well versed with all drugs that can be sold on the street for a profit, and know that the narcotics are often locked away in another location. Though burglars will often break in to the pharmacies equipped with crowbars and lock cutters, these tools are ineffective if the high margin narcotics are locked up in a safe overnight. Unfortunately the only way to steal these drugs is to rob the pharmacies during business hours, which is a terrifying and dangerous alternative to nighttime burglary. It is also comes with a greater risk of serious prison time upon begin caught, as one man from Washington D.C. recently found out.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced the D.C. man linked to a series of pharmacy robberies in Prince George’s County has been sentenced to 150 months in federal prison where he will join his two other co-conspirators. The conspiracy included as many as four separate armed robberies that netted in excess of $20,000 worth of oxycodone. The defendants wore ski masks and at least one brandished a handgun, while another used pepper spray on two customers at a Hyattsville pharmacy. In one of the robberies in Berwyn Heights, Maryland the defendants stole an employee’s cell phone and wallet that included credit cards and identification cards. The FBI and the Prince George’s County Police Department cleared the cases, which landed all three defendants lengthy prison terms.

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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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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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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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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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money-941228__340Two men recently attempted to rob a popular downtown Towson liquor store and one lost his life as a result. The attempted robbery occurred around 7 p.m. Monday night in the middle of Baltimore County’s capital city, and just blocks from the district and circuit courthouses. One of the two men was armed and pointed his handgun directly at the store clerk’s head while demanding money. What the robber didn’t realize was that the clerk was armed as well, and unfortunately for all those involved the clerk was forced to use his firearm. The 68 year-old clerk shot one of the robbers multiple times in the torso before both attempted to flee the scene on foot. One suspect got away and is still at large, while the other collapsed shortly after exiting the store. This suspect, a 25 year-old man from Baltimore eventually passed away from his injuries.

Baltimore County Police are currently investigating the incident, but the liquor store is back open for business and is no longer and active crime scene. After the police have concluded their investigation they will forward the case on to the state’s attorney’s office where a decision will be made whether to pursue charges against the clerk. It seems like a forgone conclusion that the prosecutor’s office will deem this an incident of self -defense, and the odds of the case even going to a grand jury are slim to none. Shop owners and employees are treated the same as homeowners and residents under the Maryland laws for possessing a handgun. No license is needed as long as the firearm is within the property of the business, and the person who possesses the gun is a bonafide employee or agent.

The question of whether the clerk was legally justified to shoot the robber is a basic self-defense inquiry. If the clerk reasonably feared for his life then he is justified to meet deadly force against deadly force. A handgun is by definition a deadly weapon, and pointing a gun at someone in a threatening manner is considered the use of deadly force regardless of whether a verbal threat to shoot was made. The clerk’s description of the events combined with the fact that police found a gun on the deceased would meet the requirements for the justifiable use of deadly force. The incident was likely captured on video that police and the state’s attorney will view, but video does not seem necessary to exonerate the clerk in this case. The deceased had been convicted of armed robbery and carjacking back in 2007, for which he served less than 10 years of a 20-year prison sentence. He was not out of jail for long before he violated his probation, and was scheduled for a VOP hearing in the Baltimore City circuit court in April. While this information is not exactly relevant to the state’s attorney’s decision with respect to the store clerk, it is definitely not something that will go unnoticed.