Flash mobs: First dancing, now crime
Ask someone what a flash mob is and they’ll likely conjure up images of what they’ve seen on television: a public place suddenly taken over by a group of strangers performing a coordinated dance routine. The group performs its number, there’s some applause, maybe some laughter, and then everybody goes back to what they were doing.
These lighthearted events, many of which became overnight YouTube sensations, are what most people will think of when asked about flash mobs. But, what most people don’t know is that flash mobs have taken on a new, sinister side; a side that has come to be known as “flash mob crime.”
A perfect example of flash mob crime occurred in Germantown this past August. Dozens of teenagers descended upon a local 7-Eleven and, en masse, shoplifted food and other items.
Looking at video from the store’s video security system, police determined the mass grab-and-dash was a coordinated effort. It didn’t take long for officers to track down the culprits, who quickly admitted that they’d planned the whole thing using social media and cell phones.
What happened in Germantown is part of a growing nationwide trend. As local jurisdictions move to address this novel threat, the clash with existing law is imminent. Those involved in such incidents may quickly find themselves charged with some serious crimes–more serious than they may have ever expected.
Under the MD Code’s definition of criminal gang, juveniles involved in a flash mob crime could find themselves charged with crimes aimed at preventing gang activity.
Within the Code, a “criminal gang” is defined as, “a group or association of three or more persons whose members: (1) individually or collectively engage in a pattern of criminal gang activity; (2) have as one of their primary objectives or activities the commission of one or more underlying crimes, including acts by juveniles that would be underlying crimes if committed by adults; and (3) have in common an overt or covert organizational or command structure.” Md. Criminal Law Code Ann. § 9-801(c) (2011).
A pattern of criminal gang activity “means the commission of, attempted commission of, conspiracy to commit, or solicitation of two or more underlying crimes or acts by a juvenile that would be an underlying crime if committed by an adult, provided the crimes or acts were not part of the same incident.”
It’s not much of a stretch to apply these definitions to acts like the one that took place at that Germantown 7-11, or to any other incident of flash mob crime.
Moreover, as has been discussed on this blog, Maryland law permits, indeed requires, that the police report criminal gang activity to school officials whenever a student is involved as a perpetrator. Students who get sucked into flash mob crime are bound to get hit with the double whammy of criminal charges and school disciplinary action.
Because of the breadth of the existing law, and the novel nature of flash mob crime, it is essential that anyone involved in such activities have competent legal representation. Attorneys versed at juvenile law are the best bet for keeping yourself, or your loved one, out of juvenile detention or, worse, prison.
— Bryan D. Utter, Esq.