In the State of Maryland, theft crimes are defined by statute. Maryland law defines five (5) categories of theft offenses. The categories are (1) unauthorized control over property; (2) unauthorized control over property by deception; (3) possession of stolen property; (4) control over property that is lost, mislaid, or delivered by mistake, and (5) theft of services available only for compensation.
Theft is a specific intent crime. There are two essential ways in which the state may prove the crime of theft. The state must prove that the defendant either intentionally deprived the owner of their property, or that the defendant willingly or knowingly used, concealed, or abandoned the property in a way that actually deprives, or will likely deprive, the owner of the property.
Maryland’s theft statutes contain both a general theft provision, as well as several provisions that deal with specific types of theft offenses. These offenses include:
- Unauthorized control over property
- Possession of Stolen Property
- Motor Vehicle Theft
- Newspaper Theft
- Bad Checks
- Obtaining services available only for compensation, by deception or with knowledge that the services have been provided without consent
- Control over property that has been lost, or delivered by mistake
Robbery is the taking and carrying away of property from someone, by force or threat of force, with the intent to deprive the victim of the property. Property can be anything of value. Obtaining services by force or threat of force can also serve as a basis for a robbery charge.
Armed Robbery is robbery that occurs when the defendant has a dangerous weapon. For armed robbery, the state must prove the elements of robbery, and that the defendant committed the robbery by using a dangerous weapon. A dangerous weapon is an object that is capable of causing death or serious bodily harm.
Carjacking occurs when an individual obtains unauthorized possession or control over a motor vehicle, where the vehicle is in the possession of another individual and the perpetrator uses force or threat of force to put the person in fear and obtain control of the vehicle.
Burglary is a crime that comes in various degrees. Essentially, it is a breaking and an entry. The slightest break and entry are generally sufficient to prove burglary. Burglary is defined in Maryland in terms of degrees.
Types of Burglary
First Degree Burglary
First degree burglary is the breaking and entering into another’s dwelling with the intent to commit theft or a crime of violence. Breaking means the creation or enlargement of an opening. This can be as simple as opening a window or door and entry simply requires any part of the defendant’s body to be inside the house. A dwelling is structure where someone regularly sleeps.
Second Degree Burglary
Second degree burglary is the breaking and entering into another’s building with the intent to commit theft, a crime of violence, or arson in the second degree.
Third Degree Burglary
Third degree burglary is the breaking and entering into another’s dwelling, with the intent to commit any crime.
Fourth Degree Burglary
Fourth degree burglary is the breaking and entering into another’s dwelling or building. Fourth degree burglary does not have any specific intent that must be proven by the state. Fourth degree burglary also can be proven by showing that the defendant was in or on the property, including a building, yard or garden, with the intent to commit theft. No breaking or entry is required to prove Fourth Degree Burglary. The state can also prove a fourth degree burglary by proving that the defendant possesses burglar’s tools in his possession with the intent to commit breaking and entry.
Shoplifting is generally prosecuted as theft in the State of Maryland. What happens when the shoplifter is caught before leaving the store, however? The Maryland theft statute defines to include the mere concealment of property, with the intent to deprive the owner of the property. Thus, a person has committed a theft, under the Maryland theft statute, regardless of whether that person actually makes it out of the store.
Possession of Stolen Property
It is a crime in Maryland to possess stolen property, even if the defendant did not participate in the theft. In order to convict a defendant of theft by possession of stolen property, the state must prove that the defendant had actual knowledge that the property was stolen. Knowledge of the fact that the property is stolen can be inferred from circumstances surrounding the defendant’s possession of the property.
In Maryland, a person has a duty to take reasonable measure to restore property to its rightful owner before claiming it as their own. Exclusive possession of recently stolen property, without a reasonable explanation, may be evidence of theft. A judge or jury who finds a defendant in possession of property shortly after its stolen, and without proper explanation, may, but is not required to, find the defendant guilty of theft.
Possession means knowingly having the property on one’s person or knowingly having the property within one’s control or at one’s disposal. All of the surrounding circumstances are to be considered in making this determination, including what property was stolen, how the defendant may have come into possession of the property, and the amount of time which has elapsed between the theft and the defendant’s possession.
What are the Penalties for Theft?
In Maryland, theft is classified both as a misdemeanor and as a felony. The classification of any specific crime depends primarily on the value of the money or property that has been taken. Theft offenses are punishable by jail and fines. In addition, upon conviction, no matter what the left of theft charged, the court will almost certainly order that the defendant return the items that were stolen, or make restitution to the owner as a condition of probation.
Penalties for Different Thefts
Crimes generally, and theft crimes specifically, fall into two broad categories – misdemeanors and felonies. Misdemeanors are generally less severe form of crime than a felony. Maryland divides its theft crimes into misdemeanor theft and felony theft. A misdemeanor theft is a theft of property valued at less than $1,500.
A person who commits a theft where the property or services stolen are valued at $100 or less will be charged with a misdemeanor, commonly known as petty theft. Petty theft, carries a maximum sentence of 90 days in jail, a $500 fine, or both.
A person who commits a theft of property valued over $100, but less than $1,500 is also subject to be charged with a misdemeanor, however the penalty is more severe. This crime carries a penalty of 6 months in jail, and/or a $500 fine for a first offense and one year in jail and/or a $500 fine for a second or subsequent offense.
A person who has been convicted of four or more thefts of less than $1,500 and is charged with a new theft, is subject to an increased potential sentence of no more than five years and no more than $5,000, or both.
In addition to these penalties, the defendant will have to pay restitution as determined by the court.
Felony Theft is theft over $1500. Like Misdemeanor Theft, there are varying levels of felony theft with different punishments.
A person who commits a theft of property between $1,500 and $25,000 can be charged with a felony and is subject to a penalty of 5 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000.
A person who commits a theft of property between $25,000 and $100,000 can be charged with a felony and is subject to a penalty of 10 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $15,000.
A person who commits a theft of property over $100,000 in value can be charged with a felony and is subject to a penalty of 20 years imprisonment and a fine up to $25,000.
In addition to these penalties, the defendant will have to pay restitution as determined by the court.
Motor Vehicle Theft
Theft of an automobile is a felony carrying a potential prison sentence of 5 years and a fine of $5,000, or both. Additionally, the defendant could be charged with unauthorized removal of property, a misdemeanor carrying a minimum sentence of six months and maximum sentence of four years. In addition to a fine, the court will also order restitution as part of sentencing.
The state has the option of alternatively charging the defendant under the general theft statute described above.
In addition to theft, the defendant may be charged with the crime of rogue and vagabond. Rogue and vagabond is breaking and entering into a motor vehicle. The statute prohibits two types of conduct:
- A person may not possess burglar’s tools with intent to use or allow the use of burglar’s tools in connection with a crime involving the breaking and entering of a motor vehicle
- A person may not be in or on the motor vehicle of another with the intent to commit theft of the motor vehicle or property inside the motor vehicle.
The crime of rogue and vagabond is a misdemeanor and carries a maximum jail sentence of three years.
Embezzlement is a special type of theft involving a fiduciary relationship. Where a fiduciary converts property held for another to their own use, it constitutes a misdemeanor, carrying a minimum sentence of one year and a maximum sentence of five years.
Obtaining Goods or Services by Bad Check
The basic penalties for writing a bad check are the same as those for felony theft.
A person who writes a bad check between $1,000 and $10,000 can be charged with a felony and is subject to a penalty of 10 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000.
A person who writes a bad check between $10,000 and $100,000 can be charged with a felony and is subject to a penalty of 15 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $15,000.
A person who writes a bad check over $100,000 in value can be charged with a felony and is subject to a penalty of 25 years imprisonment and a fine up to $25,000.
Where a person writes multiple bad checks within a 30-day period and the cumulative value is $1,000 or more, the penalty is up to 10 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000.
Writing a bad check for less than $1,000 constitutes a misdemeanor carrying a penalty of 18-months in prison and a fine of $500.
Writing a bad check for less than $100 constitutes a misdemeanor carrying a penalty of 90-days and a fine of up to $500. It is not a defense to the crime of writing a bad check less than $100 that the value of the goods or services exceeds $100.
Civil Liability for Shoplifting
In addition to the criminal penalties for theft described above, a person who is convicted of shoplifting also faces civil liability to the merchant from which goods are stolen. This civil liability includes restoration of the merchandise, or restitution to the merchant for the value of the merchandise, payment for the damages sustained by the merchant, including costs that they have expended in the apprehension and prosecution of the defendant, as well as a civil penalty of twice the value of the merchandise, but not less than $50 nor more than $1000.
Defenses to Theft Crimes
Under Maryland law, it is a defense to the crime of theft that the defendant was acting under a good faith claim of right to the property involved. A defendant who honestly believes that they have the right to obtain or exert control over the property cannot be convicted of theft. Of course, whether the defendant in fact holds an honest belief is a question to be decided by the judge or jury in the case and the defendant’s testimony is not necessarily dispositive of that issue.
It is also a defense to theft that the property belonged to the person’s spouse, unless the spouses were not living together as husband and wife at the time of the theft, and they were living in separate residences.
In the case of a theft of trade secrets, it is also a defense that the trade secret was rightfully known by the defendant, or that the trade secret was available from a source other than the owner.
It is not a defense to the crime of theft that the defendant has an interest in the property that was the subject of the theft if another also has an interest in or right to possess the property that the defendant is not entitled to infringe.
Where two or more persons own property jointly, and neither has a right that is superior to the other joint or common owners, they each have an equal right to possession. Moreover, a person who holds a security interest in property does not have a right to possession that is greater than the person in lawful possession, even if the security holder has legal title to the goods. This means for instance, that if you lease a car, the lessor cannot come and take it from you, unless you have breached the terms of your lease.
Having the Right Attorney
Having the right attorney to defend you against a theft or related charge can mean the difference between being convicted and walking free. Each case is unique and the information provided herein is designed to be an overview of these crimes and not a substitute for legal advice. Only an experienced and qualified attorney who has had the opportunity to speak with you and assess the facts and evidence in your case can be in a position to give you good legal advice.
A theft conviction can have devastating consequences. In addition to being stuck with a criminal record, a defendant may also be subject to problems down the road in applying for a job or a security clearance or in obtaining credit. The person may also be subject to the loss of or inability to obtain a professional license. A theft conviction can also be used to impeach a person testifying as a witness in court. These consequences may occur regardless of the value of what was stolen.
Even if you are charged in a case where you actually committed theft, retaining the right attorney can present a tremendous advantage to you. Even if an acquittal is not warranted by the facts of your case, we may be able to help you avoid being convicted by negotiating to have the case placed on the stet docket, or by seeking and obtaining a probation before judgment in your case. A probation before judgment is part of a negotiated plea agreement where the defendant admits to having committed the crime, but the court does not enter a conviction. Cases ending in a stet agreement or a probation before judgment (PBJ) are generally able to be expunged, although there may be a waiting period before the defendant is eligible for an expungement.
The information contained on this page is provided as general information and does not constitute legal advice. The experienced attorneys at Baldwin, Briscoe & Steinmetz, P.C. can assist you if you are facing a theft charge or other criminal charges. Call today to schedule a free, no-obligation, in-office-consultation for any theft charge.