In Dickson v. United States, 7m/21 (Md. April 25, 2022), the Court of Appeals of Maryland answered a certified question from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The question was: Under Maryland law, can an individual be convicted of robbery by means of threatening force against property or threatening to accuse the victim of having committed sodomy?
The appellant argued that in Maryland, robbery does not qualify as a crime of violence. He claimed that it was established under English common law that a person could be guilty of robbery if he took a victim’s property by threatening force against the victim’s property or threatening to accuse the victim of having committed sodomy. The appellant further argued that these two alternative modalities of robbery became part of Maryland’s common law through the incorporation of English common law. The Court rejected this argument.
The Court found that it was not settled English common law on July 4, 1776, that a person could commit robbery by threatening the victim’s property or by threatening to accuse the victim of sodomy. The Court noted a Maryland legal treatise dating back to 1826 that defined robbery as an “open and violent larceny from the person.” Thus, language regarding “putting the victim in fear” in discussions of robbery meant putting the victim in fear of violence. This conclusion was also supported by a Maryland criminal law treatise from 1889.
When the General Assembly codified the “judicially determined meaning” of robbery in 2000 it understood that the essence of Maryland robbery was the use of violence or inducing fear to take property from another’s person. Additionally, the General Assembly found it was appropriate to bring wrongful obtaining of services within the robbery statute, but made clear that such conduct only constituted robbery where the perpetrator used force against the person or threatened bodily harm to extract the victim’s agreement to provide the service. Thus, the Court concluded that when the General Assembly codified the judicially determined meaning of robbery, it understood robbery to require the use of force or threatened bodily harm.
The Court noted that they found no Maryland caselaw in which the State obtained a conviction for robbery based on a threat to property or a threat to accuse the victim of sodomy.
The Court answered the certified question in the negative and held that, under Maryland law, an individual cannot be convicted of robbery by means of threatening force against property or threatening to accuse the victim of having committed sodomy.