Guilty of Stupidity

December 12, 1993

"It's a shame they don't have a charge for stupidity." So said a Baltimore police officer last week after a Clifton Park man got stuck in the chimney of a Belair Road liquor store that he had hoped to burgle. The store owner himself offered this appraisal of the would-be thief: "He ain't too swift."

Maybe there should be a category for offenders whose loads are shy a few bricks, whose attics are vacant, whose porch lights aren't on. They certainly seem numerous enough to merit their own grouping. For 12 years, in fact, Sun columnist Dan Rodricks has been reporting tales of just such ne'er-do-wells who are, as he puts it, "guilty but mostly stupid." And syndicated columnist Chuck Shepherd has built a career out of accounts about "America's Least Wanted Criminals," as he labeled them in a recent anthology of his pieces.

These are crooks like the guy who, in the midst of a chase, leaped from the car and into what he thought were bushes at the side of the road but were actually the tops of tall trees beside a bridge. Or like the man who snatched a brown sack from a woman walking her dog, only to have the dog remove a piece of his thigh and then learn that the bag was full of Fido's droppings. Or like the Clifton Park fellow who tried to play Santa a few weeks early at that Belair Road liquor store.

Once the stupid charge were established, an appropriate punishment would have to be set. A jail sentence or probation might not be enough for these dim bulbs. Some kind of intellectual stimulation would be in order. How about home detention with a requirement that the criminal read a literary classic a week? He or she also would have to discuss the book with a volunteer from a staff of English majors formed expressly for this purpose.

That grim task by itself might convince the crooks to give up their lives of crime once and for all -- which would be the smartest thing they could ever do.

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