Articles Posted in Robbery and Burglary

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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.

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mobile-phone-426559_640The Howard County Police recently reported that social media has led to the arrest of two burglary suspects, whose crime spree spanned multiple counties. One of the suspects is a 46 year-old male, while the other is a 22 year-old female. Both are accused of felony first-degree burglary and theft in Howard County and in Baltimore County, and the pair is currently in custody awaiting trial in the Baltimore County Detention center. Other charges include 4th degree burglary and false documentation. The alleged burglaries, which occurred 10 days apart back in August, have been indicted by a grand jury and will now be brought before a circuit court judge. The two suspects were not caught in the act, and managed to steer clear of law enforcement for almost a month. Ultimately though the pair was identified after the Howard County Police utilized social media in an attempt to generate leads. The modern crime-solving tool proved successful; arrest warrants were issued in the first week of September and both suspects were jailed less than two weeks later.

While police have only been utilizing social media for a few years, this crime-solving tactic has gained a tremendous amount of steam. Almost every law enforcement agency in the country has some sort of social media outlet such as Twitter or Facebook, and now it has become commonplace to ask the public for tips through these outlets. Law enforcement embraces the same benefits of social media as any business or private citizen. Social medial allows police to reach a large number of people at a fraction of the effort and cost of traditional methods such as billboard or television. The Howard County Police Department has roughly 38 thousand followers on Twitter, and can reach each of these followers immediately with a two-line tweet that takes a minute to type. The Baltimore County Police Department is a little behind with roughly 13 thousand followers, but even with this smaller number the effects can be considerable.

In addition to police departments soliciting information about crime through their own posts and tweets, law enforcement also takes advantage of social media in other ways. There have been numerous cases where police linked up stolen property to a person’s Facebook account. This usually occurs when the thief is attempting to sell the hot goods online, but it could also be in the form of posts and pictures of the suspects with the stolen property. In other crimes, Twitter accounts could also reveal where a suspect was at a specific time, and whom that suspect was with. Police detectives have now made it a habit to scan the social media accounts of all their suspects. In criminal cases involving juvenile or young adults police will often scan the Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts of friends and classmates of the defendants and victims. The results have ranged from generating probable cause for a warrant, all the way up to providing prosecutors with evidence at trial. Defense attorneys are now seeing discovery packets laced with screen shots and printouts from social media sites. The public format of these sites makes the evidence difficult to suppress, as no warrants are required to scan a person’s Facebook or Twitter accounts.

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dollar-897092_640Committing the perfect crime is a deceiving proposition. While a perfectly executed heist may result in co-conspirators leaving the scene with their score, perfection in often the fatal mistake that causes their arrest a short time later. Whenever a robbery, theft, or burglary is performed at exactly the most opportune time, with the highest value and the least possible resistance, a seasoned detective will automatically assume an inside job. The suspect pool for an inside job is infinitely smaller, thus ruling out insiders is often the first step for law enforcement. Just like a murder case where cops often focus their initial inquiry on the current or ex-spouse, in a heist police first turn to employees of the business that was robbed. This is exactly what happened almost 3 years ago when over $270,000 was stolen from an armored car employee in Prince George’s County.

In the fall of 2012 the branch manager of a Hyattsville Bank of America conspired with one of her security guards and four other men to steal the bank’s money. The six carried out their plan on November 21, while the manager and the security guard were both on duty at the bank. Just as an armored car employee carrying the large amount of cash was leaving the bank the armed co-conspirators pounced. There was little resistance, and the four hired guns drove off with the money in vans they had parked outside the bank. Nobody was injured, and for a while the bank manager and her crew happily split their share of around 45 thousand each.

For a short time all six probably thought they got away with it. But federal agents, who typically handle bank robberies due to the money being federally insured, were not stumped for long. The four gun-toting bandits knew the time of the pickup, and that particular day the cash load was particularly large. Few people would have this type of knowledge, so agents were left with two scenarios. One theory would have been a team of highly experienced bank robbers who did thorough research on the bank before carrying out their flawless plan. But to risk their lives for a mere $270 thousand split four ways was unlikely, and something not even fit for the movie screen. The other theory would have been an inside job, where the bank employees and their crew knew the chance of being foiled in the act was low.

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1010760_dna_1DNA collection and preservation by law enforcement has been one of the more hotly contested privacy issues of the last decade. The presence of a defendant’s DNA at a crime scene is often the most compelling state’s evidence at trial, while the lack of DNA at the scene can be equally as strong for the defense. Maryland law gives police the right to take a suspect’s DNA sample in certain arrests, and this procedure is usually done with a minimally evasive cheek swab. No warrant is required to take the swab pursuant to a federal court decision from two years, which established that DNA triggers similar privacy rights to a booking photo or a fingerprint. Additionally submitting to a DNA sample is not testimony, and therefore a defendant does not have the right to consult with an attorney prior to opening up for the swab. There’s no denying the power of DNA evidence in open law enforcement investigations, as both the defense and prosecution have hung their hat on it thousands of times. But controversy arises when DNA collected for an entirely different reason is used to solve a cold case, or a criminal case with no leads. Recently, The Maryland Court of Appeals handed down a decision that may once again spark the nationwide DNA debate.

Three years ago an Anne Arundel County man voluntarily submitted to a law enforcement DNA swab after he was suspected of being involved in a rape. The sample didn’t match and the man was cleared of any wrongdoing in the rape, but just one year later he was indicted on a burglary charge that had actually occurred five years prior. Police had kept his voluntarily submitted sample and plugged it into a database for the cold case burglary. When the sample matched the man felt he had no defense, and pled guilty to a four year suspended sentence. The defense appealed stating that keeping and using the man’s DNA for another purpose than the rape case amounted to an illegal search and seizure that violated the Fourth Amendment. The Maryland high court judges disagreed, and ruled that once police lawfully obtain a person’s DNA they are free to keep it and use it for any law enforcement purpose. Once they have it, they get to keep it.

The decision by the Court of Appeals is hardly groundbreaking. Police have been holding on to fingerprints for decades. But that’s not even the most compelling argument for the government. The protections of the Fourth Amendment prevent law enforcement from illegally infringing on our right to live as private citizens. When cops overstep their boundaries to obtain evidence then it is a judge’s duty to suppress everything that flows from the illegal intrusion. But when law enforcement conducts a legal search or seizure any other unexpected pieces of evidence they recover are fair game. If cops execute a search warrant looking for drugs and instead find illegal firearms and stolen property, then the defendant will be charged accordingly. All the evidence will be admissible. It’s the same principal with DNA collection; if law enforcement lawfully takes a sample for one investigation, they are free to use it if it matches on another investigation. This decision is not one that will please defense attorneys, but it’s hardly the most surprising one to come out of Annapolis.

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seal-42280_640The U.S. Attorney’s Office recently announced the indictments of more than a dozen defendants involved in a large-scale theft ring in Prince George’s County, Montgomery County, the Washington D.C. metro area. This particular criminal organization has apparently been in operation since 2009, and is allegedly responsible for the theft of over $5 million worth of cars, cash, jewelry, and electronics. The FBI has reportedly linked over 100 auto thefts to the group, as well as the looting of multiple ATMs. The group also stole personal identification information such as credit card numbers, and would sell or fraudulently use the information. Seven of the defendants were arrested during search warrants carried out by state, local, and federal law enforcement officers. In total 140 cops were involved in executing the eleven search warrants in the racketeering conspiracy. Two of the defendants were already in custody on other charges, while five remain at large, with $5,000 rewards being offered for information leading to their arrest.

The indictments were recently unsealed, and now details of the crime ring’s inner workings has been revealed to the public. Among the groups tactics were stealing cars while they were unlocked at gas stations, outside of homes, and even at cemeteries. Group members would then use the stolen vehicles to commit other crimes such as robbery and burglary. In fact a recent robbery of a couple at a cemetery has been linked to members of the group. Information obtained in the investigation, headed up by the Baltimore office of the FBI, revealed that the group would regularly meet to discuss new ideas to carry out thefts and other crimes. As is typical of these investigations, law enforcement officers recovered numerous incriminating text messages and social media posts between group members. In some conversations defendants discuss the sale of stolen cars and guns, with at least one conversation including a picture of stolen firearms. These conversations are all fair game for use at trial, and will likely allow federal prosecutors to make easy work of many of the cases.

Each indicted member of the theft ring faces multiple felony counts in federal court, and most of the counts are punishable by up to 20 years in prison. The cases will be prosecuted at the United States District Court in Greenbelt, and while there are no trial dates as of yet, it’s likely that many of the members will enter into plea agreements with the government over the next few months. As is usually the case in multi defendant conspiracy prosecutions, the first handful to plea will likely receive the best offers. The defendants range in age from as young as 22 to as old as 54, so they will likely have varying degrees of criminal records. Defendants with numerous prior convictions will undoubtedly face the harshest sentences, and may find it difficult to obtain a reasonable plea deal. The younger defendants may be enticed into taking a deal with the caveat that they would have to testify against other members if the cases were to go to trial. What started out as a close-knit ring could easily turn into a situation where every man is just looking out for himself. The Blog will follow the progress of these cases, and we may post a follow up article of some interesting news comes out of the courthouse.

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police-224426_640.jpgNews trucks and National Guard Humvees are no longer lining the streets of Baltimore, but the city is still experiencing elevated crime levels and widespread violence following riots that generated worldwide attention. Forty-two people were murdered within city limits last month, the highest monthly total in over 40 years, and millions of dollars worth of narcotics have fallen into the hands of drug dealers in the last few weeks. The murder rate is attributed by some as a direct result of a lower police presence in high crime areas, exactly the opposite of what is needed. Police in the tensest areas such as the western district of Baltimore City have allegedly shifted their priority to self-preservation rather than protecting the public. According to an anonymous supervising officer who was interviewed on CNN, cops in the western district are basically ignoring orders from the police leadership to vigorously patrol, and are just simply responding to 911 calls. This passive approach is likely causing a sense of lawlessness in certain areas, and in turn wrongdoers are becoming bolder. Although the police commissioner has no plans to step down, there is growing discontent about the department’s leadership going forward. One city councilman has publically called for a new police commissioner, stating that he knows rank and file officers have lost confidence and respect for their commander. This environment has officer moral and motivation at an all time low, and city residents are suffering the consequences.
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