When U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. was recently summonsed to jury duty, the case for which he was a potential juror was a cell phone theft.
Our D.C. criminal defense attorneys know that cell phone theft is far and away one of the most frequently-reported crimes in the District.
Last year marked a record in the country for number of smart phone thefts. According to CNBC, approximately 113 smart phones are stolen every minute. That amounts to 160,000 daily or approximately 30 million annually. And that number is rising sharply.
In New York City, smartphone thefts accounted for 40 percent of all robberies in 2011. Unlike theft of cell phones, which will generally be charged as misdemeanors because their value is under $1,000, robbery of a cell phone in D.C. - that is, physically strong-arming or demanding it from another person's possession - is a felony. It's punishable by between 2 and 15 years in prison. If you use a gun, your maximum sentenced is upped to 30 years behind bars. If you have a prior criminal record, you could serve a minimum of 5 to 10 years.
This is no minor matter.
Still, law enforcement officials tend to have a tough time tracking culprits, so only a percentage actually end up in court and even fewer are convicted.
But lately, it seems law enforcement and prosecutors are stepping up their effort. In the past several weeks, Metro police have reported nearly a dozen cell phone thefts that have led to arrests.
Ensuring you have a skilled and experienced attorney can put a significant distance between you and that jail cell.
Among the recent cases was a robbery in which a man was walking along Alabama Avenue SE around 7 p.m., sending a text message as he walked, when he was approached by two individuals who demanded his phone. When he refused, the two allegedly beat him and then took both his phone and his wallet. The two suspects were soon apprehended and charged with robbery by force.
There were several incidents near Capitol Hill that mirrored this same method. A man walking on Constitution Avenue NE was approached by a group of people who demanded his phone. When he refused, he was reportedly punched in the face and robbed.
Same thing happened the next day on Pennsylvania Avenue SE. The next day, two teens were arrested on charges of robbery by force.
So there is no question these incidents occur. The question is in ensuring police have the correct suspect. That's not easy.
True, a lot of these phones are equipped with tracking devices. However, those safeguards can often be turned off or don't work if the phone is turned off.
And usually, those who steal the devices aren't trying to keep them anyway. Resale value for the phones is around $200 each.
But keep in mind, if you are caught with a stolen phone, you could be charged with receiving stolen property - even if you didn't know the phone was stolen. Under D.C. Criminal Code 22-3232, this is a felony offense if the value of the item is $250 or more. It's quite possible a cell phone could be. In these cases, you would face up to 7 years in prison. If on the other hand the value of the property is less than $250, it's a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a 180 days in jail.