Baum Law Offices, LLC – Attorney Matthew Baum

Maryland Theft Law Overview

Maryland-theft-law

Maryland frequently prosecutes people for shoplifting based on allegations of “concealment” only.

In Maryland people can be charged with theft who, in common terms, didn’t steal anything at all. This is because current Maryland theft law prohibits a wide range of actions, some of which most people don’t think of as theft. The legal basis for most theft cases can be found in Title 7, Section 7-104 of the Maryland Code. Lawyer’s refer to this part of the Code as Maryland’s “consolidated theft statute.” The reason it’s called “consolidated” is because this modern statute takes the place of a handful of individual laws that banned a variety of theft-related offenses. See the bottom of this post for the full text of Section 7-104. In general, Maryland theft law forbids a person to knowingly do something intended to deprive a rightful owner of a piece of property. What follows are a few of the specific acts that are made illegal under the Maryland consolidated theft statute.

Concealment of Property

Maryland’s theft statute expressly forbids hiding something with the intent to deprive the owner of his ownership of it. The statute also specifically forbids concealing property in a situation that will “probably deprive the owner of the property.” This portion of the statute is frequently used to prosecute shoplifters before they leave a retail store without paying for merchandise. Often these cases are brought by the prosecution with the assumption that any concealment necessarily indicates the intention to deprive the owner of the property. Defenses may exist when their is some other motive for the apparent concealment.

Possession of Stolen Property

The Maryland consolidated theft statute also prohibits possessing property that has been stolen by another person. It’s important to recognize that possessing stolen property is illegal only when the defendant has a guilty mind. The legally required mens rea (Latin for “guilty mind”) is “knowingly” or, based on the “probably” language included in the Code, “should have known.” From a defense perspective, this means that someone found in possession of stolen property has to give a good explanation for how he came to possess that stolen property. Courts will look to the circumstances of possession in order to determine whether or not there is criminal liability. Explanations such as “I found it,” or “a friend gave it to me,” without further elaboration, aren’t likely to be good defenses. The Code further specifies that someone who is in the business of buying or selling goods is uniquely susceptible to prosecution under the Maryland theft law.  Under the law, a dealer of goods will be presumed to have known goods were stolen in certain circumstances. For example, when a dealer of goods buys something for an exceptionally low price he will be presumed to know that the item in question is stolen.

Keeping Lost Property

Maryland theft law runs contrary to the common wisdom of “finders keepers.” According to Maryland law, someone who finds (or receives by mistake) something of value, needs to take “reasonable measures to restore the property to the owner” before he can rightfully keep the property. So FedEx mistakenly delivered a shiny new laptop to your door and you’re thinking of keeping it? Receiver beware. Someone who finds or receives something of value that he should know is not intended for him is legally obligated not to take possession of the property without looking for the owner. That probably means calling FedEx and telling them that they made a mistake. Successful defenses to charges filed under this portion of the Maryland theft statute will need to point to efforts by the recipient to find the rightful owner prior to taking possession.

Taking Someone’s Services Without Paying

This used to be called “Theft of Services.” Now it’s just called theft. If someone typically performs some kind of service for hire, and someone takes that service without paying the usual fee, that action is considered theft under the consolidated theft statute. When someone runs away from a taxi cab without paying the fare, that’s taking someone’s services without paying. This kind of case is probably one of the most common uses of this part of the Maryland theft statute. Defenses in these cases usually involve arguments that the recipient of the services believed that the services were paid for, or were about to be paid for.

Not Paying for “Motor Fuel”

Stealing gasoline is given special mention under the the Maryland theft statute. The statute specifies that there may be special administrative penalties, including suspension of the driver’s license, as a penalty for theft of gasoline in Maryland. Criminal penalties also apply.

Maryland Theft Penalties

Theft less than $100 – 90 days in jail and or a $500 fine

Theft less than $1000 – 18 months in jail and or a $500 fine

Theft at least $1000 but less than $10,000 (a felony) – 10 years in jail and or a $10,000 fine

Theft at least $10,000 but less than $100,000 (a felony) – 15 years in jail and or a $15,000 fine

Theft $100,000 or more (a felony) 25 years in jail and or a $25,000 fine

Maryland Theft Cases and Employment

If you or someone you know has been charged with theft in Maryland then you need to take action. A conviction for theft can be devastating to individuals by triggering employment termination, limiting future employment prospects, preventing professional licensing, barring access to security clearances, and in other significant ways. Theft is considered a “crime of moral turpitude” and can limit a convicted person’s ability to testify in court on unrelated matters. This is because courts consider theft convictions to go straight to the question of whether a person should be believed when he testifies. Do not take theft cases lightly even when the dollar value is small. All convictions for theft, no matter how big or small the dollar value of the property alleged to have been taken, come with serious collateral consequences.

Matthew Baum is a Maryland defense attorney with offices in Baltimore, Catonsville, and Columbia. He provides initial consultations and case evaluations free or charge and without obligation. Baum Law Offices can be reached at (410) 929-3435. Telephone and email inquiries typically receive a response within one business day. 

Text of Maryland Theft Law

The full text of the Maryland theft statute (as of 2/4/2014) follows:

§ 7-104. General theft provisions.

(a)  Unauthorized control over property.- A person may not willfully or knowingly obtain or exert unauthorized control over property, if the person:

(1) intends to deprive the owner of the property;

(2) willfully or knowingly uses, conceals, or abandons the property in a manner that deprives the owner of the property; or

(3) uses, conceals, or abandons the property knowing the use, concealment, or abandonment probably will deprive the owner of the property.

(b)  Unauthorized control over property – By deception.- A person may not obtain control over property by willfully or knowingly using deception, if the person:

(1) intends to deprive the owner of the property;

(2) willfully or knowingly uses, conceals, or abandons the property in a manner that deprives the owner of the property; or

(3) uses, conceals, or abandons the property knowing the use, concealment, or abandonment probably will deprive the owner of the property.

(c)  Possessing stolen personal property.-

(1) A person may not possess stolen personal property knowing that it has been stolen, or believing that it probably has been stolen, if the person:

(i) intends to deprive the owner of the property;

(ii) willfully or knowingly uses, conceals, or abandons the property in a manner that deprives the owner of the property; or

(iii) uses, conceals, or abandons the property knowing that the use, concealment, or abandonment probably will deprive the owner of the property.

(2) In the case of a person in the business of buying or selling goods, the knowledge required under this subsection may be inferred if:

(i) the person possesses or exerts control over property stolen from more than one person on separate occasions;

(ii) during the year preceding the criminal possession charged, the person has acquired stolen property in a separate transaction; or

(iii) being in the business of buying or selling property of the sort possessed, the person acquired it for a consideration that the person knew was far below a reasonable value.

(3) In a prosecution for theft by possession of stolen property under this subsection, it is not a defense that:

(i) the person who stole the property has not been convicted, apprehended, or identified;

(ii) the defendant stole or participated in the stealing of the property;

(iii) the property was provided by law enforcement as part of an investigation, if the property was described to the defendant as being obtained through the commission of theft; or

(iv) the stealing of the property did not occur in the State.

(4) Unless the person who criminally possesses stolen property participated in the stealing, the person who criminally possesses stolen property and a person who has stolen the property are not accomplices in theft for the purpose of any rule of evidence requiring corroboration of the testimony of an accomplice.

(d)  Control over property lost, mislaid, or delivered by mistake.- A person may not obtain control over property knowing that the property was lost, mislaid, or was delivered under a mistake as to the identity of the recipient or nature or amount of the property, if the person:

(1) knows or learns the identity of the owner or knows, is aware of, or learns of a reasonable method of identifying the owner;

(2) fails to take reasonable measures to restore the property to the owner; and

(3) intends to deprive the owner permanently of the use or benefit of the property when the person obtains the property or at a later time.

(e)  Services available only for compensation.- A person may not obtain the services of another that are available only for compensation:

(1) by deception; or

(2) with knowledge that the services are provided without the consent of the person providing them.

(f)  Inference of intention or knowledge.- Under this section, an offender’s intention or knowledge that a promise would not be performed may not be established by or inferred solely from the fact that the promise was not performed.

(g)  Penalty.-

(1) A person convicted of theft of property or services with a value of:

(i) at least $1,000 but less than $10,000 is guilty of a felony and:

1. is subject to imprisonment not exceeding 10 years or a fine not exceeding $10,000 or both; and

2. shall restore the property taken to the owner or pay the owner the value of the property or services;

(ii) at least $10,000 but less than $100,000 is guilty of a felony and:

1. is subject to imprisonment not exceeding 15 years or a fine not exceeding $15,000 or both; and

2. shall restore the property taken to the owner or pay the owner the value of the property or services; or

(iii) $100,000 or more is guilty of a felony and:

1. is subject to imprisonment not exceeding 25 years or a fine not exceeding $25,000 or both; and

2. shall restore the property taken to the owner or pay the owner the value of the property or services.

(2) Except as provided in paragraphs (3) and (4) of this subsection, a person convicted of theft of property or services with a value of less than $1,000, is guilty of a misdemeanor and:

(i) is subject to imprisonment not exceeding 18 months or a fine not exceeding $500 or both; and

(ii) shall restore the property taken to the owner or pay the owner the value of the property or services.

(3) A person convicted of theft of property or services with a value of less than $100 is guilty of a misdemeanor and:

(i) is subject to imprisonment not exceeding 90 days or a fine not exceeding $500 or both; and

(ii) shall restore the property taken to the owner or pay the owner the value of the property or services.

(4) Subject to paragraph (5) of this subsection, a person who has two or more prior convictions under this subtitle and who is convicted of theft of property or services with a value of less than $1,000 under paragraph (2) of this subsection is guilty of a misdemeanor and:

(i) is subject to imprisonment not exceeding 5 years or a fine not exceeding $5,000 or both; and

(ii) shall restore the property taken to the owner or pay the owner the value of the property or services.

(5) The court may not impose the penalties under paragraph (4) of this subsection unless the State’s Attorney serves notice on the defendant or the defendant’s counsel before the acceptance of a plea of guilty or nolo contendere or at least 15 days before trial that:

(i) the State will seek the penalties under paragraph (4) of this subsection; and

(ii) lists the alleged prior convictions.

(h)  Failure to pay for motor fuel after dispensing.-

(1) If a person is convicted of a violation under this section for failure to pay for motor fuel after the motor fuel was dispensed into a vehicle, the court shall:

(i) notify the person that the person’s driver’s license may be suspended under § 16-206.1 of the Transportation Article; and

(ii) notify the Motor Vehicle Administration of the violation.

(2) The Chief Judge of the District Court and the Administrative Office of the Courts, in conjunction with the Motor Vehicle Administration, shall establish uniform procedures for reporting a violation under this subsection.

(i)  Statute of limitations.- An action or prosecution for a violation of subsection (g)(2) or (3) of this section shall be commenced within 2 years after the commission of the crime.

(j)  Jurisdiction and venue.- A person who violates this section by use of an interactive computer service may be prosecuted, indicted, tried, and convicted in any county in which the victim resides or the electronic communication originated or terminated.
[An. Code 1957, art. 27, §§ 340(b)(1)(vii), 342; 2002, ch. 26, § 2; chs. 161, 496; 2003, ch. 370, §§ 1, 2; 2004, ch. 130; ch. 157, § 2; 2005, ch. 25, § 1; 2008, chs. 36, 393, 394; 2009, ch. 655.]