A guy walks into a drug store and puts a bunch of items in his cart, walks towards the door without paying, and is intercepted by store employees. Instead of stopping, he abandons the cart, pulls out a knife, flashes it at the employees, and runs out the door with a few miscellaneous items. This robbery was caught on video. There was no mystery about who the perpetrator was. The video even showed the defendant pulling out the knife. I say knife, but what I really mean is letter opener in the shape of a pirate sword.
Everyone knows that drug stores have security cameras, but he tried to steal the items anyway. The crime was probably not a spur-of-the-moment thing, because the defendant did enough planning to come armed with the pirate sword. He must have thought that there was a good chance he would get away with it.
Based on the defendant’s criminal history, it seemed pretty clear that he intended to sell the items he was stealing, rather than use them himself. I’ve seen people selling these items by metro stops or in other public locations. Based on his history of drug arrests, my guess is that the defendant then intended to use the money to buy crack.
The defendant had done this before. He had gone to a market in a Latino area and tried to walk out with items. It would have been a shoplifting crime – like this crime – but he used force to escape. Use of force to escape with stolen property is the same as using force to take property. In other words, it’s robbery. But people don’t realize that. They think that what starts as a shoplift stays a shoplift. This defendant should have known better. But he still wanted to steal so badly (loved crack so much?) that he tried to do what he did.
With that robbery in his past, the defendant was exposed to a lot of prison time. He was on probation as well. Altogether, he was looking at 17 years. I just can’t wrap my head around what would motivate someone to risk 17 years of incarceration for a few bucks worth of shampoo and other items. Either they believe the risk is extremely low – infinitesimally low, or the reward is extremely high. Here, the defendant knew the risk was not tiny, because he had already been convicted of the same thing once. The next question to ask would be, is the reward for this shoplift extremely high. For example, is there a chance of making thousands of dollars that would justify such a dangerous risk of lengthy prison time. The answer is clearly no. There’s nothing in a drug store worth so much. The only answer that makes sense to me is that this defendant loved drugs so much, that the reward of continued access to drugs was that high value reward that we’ve been considering. It may not make sense to those of us that are not addicted to drugs, but maybe this guy loved drugs so much that he would be willing to risk 17 years of his prison. That’s how great drugs are. Or that’s how fully he was addicted.
There’s a lot of rhetoric and a lot of politics around the drug issue. A lot of people talk about the value of leaving authentic lives; others talk about the value of expanding your mind. For a lot of my life, I didn’t really see the harm in drugs, as long as you kept your habit under control. But a case like this makes a stronger argument. Drugs take over your life, to the exclusion of all else, and you become so driven to get those drugs that you take risks that defy all logic to the non-addicted. Drugs mess your life up because you want them so badly.
The judge did not give the defendant the maximum. But he gave him enough to teach me a lesson: keep your life in balance.