Nomination for Hero Badge

Cody Morris

The idiot with the deer in the headlights look is Cody Morris.  He just got charged with Robbery for stealing a nickel’s worth of Coke. He worked hard for the charge but even so, the arresting officer took it a step to far.

I know what happened, as a young patrol officer I did the exact same thing. People confuse the terms burglary, robbery and theft all the time. They all involve theft. But it’s the distinctions in the terms that make all the difference in the world.

Texas and Arkansas law are similar in many respects.  What I will describe is Texas law but I am confident that Arkansas law is in the same ballpark except for a few ands and buts.

Theft involves the taking of an object of value with the intent to deprive the owner of its value. The level of the offense is dependent on the assigned value.

Burglary occurs when a person enters a premise with intent to commit theft.

Robbery happens when in course of the theft, the offender uses the threat of force or force against a person during the commission of the offense or immediate flight. 

Here comes the the description of the actual offense.  Cody and two others pulled up to the drive-in window an Micky D’s and asked for three cups of water. Micky D does not charge for water and gives it out in a distinctive size cup in order to forestall what happened next.

Having obtained their cups of water from the drive thru window, this is important, they parked the car and entered the Micky’D’s.  I would like to know when and where they dumped out the water. Once inside they went to the self service soda fountain and helped themselves to a Coke. 

The manager confronted the trio and demanded that they return the purloined Coke.  At this point the theft is complete, there is no hope of recovering the value represented. Two people with Cody dump out the contents of their drink. Cody refuses and leaves the store with his ill gotten gains. The manager follows him out and attempts to delay or detain Cody.  Cody backs his car into the manager three times before the manger steps aside and master criminal that he is Cody makes his escape.

The cops find Cody several blocks away at a local bowling alley and arrest him for robbery. There is some gamesmanship going on here. 

Before getting into the actual charges I am going hazard a guess on the back story, what didn’t get reported.  Springdale has a population of about 29,000.  The metro area is around 340,000. There is an active car cruising culture where teens and twenty somethings drive a predetermined circuit, Micky D’s and the bowling alley being essential parts of the cruise.  Cody and friends are in Micky D’s four or five times a night, at least the parking lot. They might spring for one Coke a night. The cops know this. The arresting officer decided to make an example of Cody. I predict that the District Attorney will not prosecute this case as a robbery.

Based on the facts Cody and company committed misdemeanor theft at the very lowest range. 

If the officer could establish where they dumped out the water, inside or outside the charge could escalate. If they emptied their water cups outside the store then that fact would show that the formulated the “intent to commit theft” while still outside the building.

Micky D’s is open for business and people  can come and go as they please. Customers have “effective consent” to enter Micky D’s.  Micky D’s does not give unlimited consent, you can’t come in if you smoke, they don’t allow non-service animals and may require patrons wear a shirt and shoes. Micky D’s has not given “effective consent” for an individual to enter the premises purely for the purposes of ripping them off.  That is, in effect what Cody did and what can be demonstrated provided the water was dumped outside the building. Burglary building (or commercial building) could be a viable charge.

In the process of making his escape Cody struck the manager three times with his car. Nudge might be a better word.  A vehicle, depending on the manner of its use is a deadly weapon. Cody should have been charged with Aggravated Robbery in that he used a deadly weapon to effect his escape. 

What will happen next?  Don’t know, I can only tell you about my experience. It was a Friday afternoon, so long ago that all involved are eligible to retire. It was the second week of school, Southwest Texas State University (SWTSU), and an inordinate number of “Frat Rats” had been captured shoplifting at the local HEB, think Safeway on steroids.  HEB brought in the first team, two ole gals that could have played middle linebacker for the Bears.  

They hadn’t been working long when they confronted a pair of frat rats out in front of the store. The frat rats tried to run and when that didn’t work they took a swing at one of them.  That was all it took, these two ole gals went to town on these two idiots and by the time I got there all I had was bits and pieces of Frat Rat to pick up. All of this for a theft under $5 charge packing a whopping $53.50 fine.  

I arrested both and booked them at the station, while I wrote my report. The sergeant harassed me into finishing my report so I could take them to the judge. Presented with a completed report he signed it without reading it.  I went down to the courthouse with my two prisoners.  I had the choice of two Justices of the Peace, one had been a JP for forty years and the other about six months.  I went for the inexperience and presented my reports charging each with Robbery by virtue of the fact that they had assaulted the security guards while in the course of making their escape and prior to reaching a point of relative safety.  Looked good to him, he slapped a $50,000 cash bond on each. They went to county jail.

When I walked in to the station Monday afternoon, I found out that the University police, University administration, District Attorney, my department administration had all spent the morning trying to figure out who to blame because the Frat Rats spent the weekend in jail, grossly overcharged.  

The shoplifting among Frat Rats stopped.

Did Cody and the Frat Rats fulfill the requirements to be arrested and charged with a felony?  Yup.  Given the circumstances was that the best charge?  How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

I was always told that you charged the highest offense that you could prove. Sounds straight forward doesn’t it?  Consider all of the moving parts and the path gets a little crooked.  As the reporting officer, I have to get my charges approved by the sergeant.  If the report makes it past the sergeant, the next person to see it will be either an intake DA in larger counties, or the Judge (City Magistrate or Justice of the Peace) with no input from the DA. Then the case is assigned to a detective.  The detective will gather witness statements, non consent affidavits, and lab analysis (if called for). Next the completed file makes it to the District Attorney.  If it is a felony, it is shuttled over to the attorney that runs the grand jury. At this point the final charging instrument is drawn up.  It may or may not resemble the original charge.  Discounting plea bargains,  the final arbiter is the jury. Nullification doesn’t happen often, but it is there.  All of these steps influence the original charging decision. This is why we have defendants with ten or twenty charges and no convictions.