Court of Appeals upholds forced purchase as theft

December 13, 1992|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Staff Writer

John Mitchell Jupiter had hunted ducks and had helped two buddies knock off 2 1/2 cases of beer one day in January 1990 when he went to buy a six-pack of Budweiser.

Warren Yates, owner of Captain John's Crab House and Marina, refused to sell the beer because Jupiter was drunk. Not one to argue, Jupiter left but returned moments later with a shotgun.

"Are you going to sell it to me now?" he asked Mr. Yates.

"Yes, sir," replied the Charles County proprietor, pulling a six-pack from the cooler.

Jupiter put a $20-bill on the counter and received $16 in change.

If a purchase is made at gunpoint, is the buyer a robber?

Yes, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled yesterday. The court's 5-2 decision delved into 400 years of American and English court rulings to uphold Jupiter's robbery conviction.

Jupiter was convicted by a Charles County jury of robbery with a deadly weapon, robbery, assault and driving while intoxicated.

His lawyer, Gary S. Offut, argued that a 1584 case in England had established that forcibly taking a for-sale item from another person is not robbery if the seller is paid.

The 1584 decision is called The Fisherman's Case. In it, someone took a fish from a fisherman against his will, but paid more money than the fish was worth. The English court threw out criminal charges because it doubted whether a felony had been committed.

But Maryland's highest court upheld Jupiter's conviction and a ruling by the Court of Special Appeals because, it said, state law prohibits the sale of beer to intoxicated people.

"The evidence was sufficient to support jury findings that Jupiter knew that he did not have a right to purchase beer, that he intended to take it in any event . . ." Judge Lawrence F. Rodowsky wrote for the majority.

In a dissenting opinion, Judge John C. Eldridge said prosecutors failed to prove Jupiter had intended to steal.

"A major flaw with the majority's approach is its focus upon the status of the defendant instead of upon the intent of the defendant," wrote Judge Eldridge, adding that the court failed to cite a precedent.

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