AUGUSTA — Maeghan Maloney, the district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties, asked lawmakers to imagine that it’s 1 a.m., pitch black outside and a man walks into a convenience store wearing a hoodie, dark glasses and gloves.

He walks up to the lone cashier and hands him a note. It reads, “Give me all the money in the register.”

The question, she asked, is whether it’s a felony robbery — one that requires an explicit threat such as mentioning a weapon — or if it’s merely a misdemeanor.

Maloney said it’s an issue that prosecutors and judges have debated without coming to a consensus. She urged lawmakers to support a bill that would redefine robbery to include situations where a criminal intimidates a victim or makes them fear without an explicit threat.

“The key question is whether the person felt intimidated,” Maloney said.

But that may prove an iffy proposition.

Rep. Rachel Talbott Ross, D-Portland, said she’s concerned there might be a racial or ethnic element that could weigh in on whether a victim feels intimidated or not.

Rep. Patrick Corey, R-Windham, said a small woman doing exactly the same thing as a large African-American man might not seem as intimidating to some.

But retailers told legislators that workers who are handed a note are often upset in the aftermath in the same way they would be if a robber mentioned that he had a gun.

Douglas Carr, an attorney who represents Rite-Aid of Maine, said it doesn’t matter if someone is frail and just a tad over 5 feet tall because they could easily have gun, too, so clerks are going to worry.

“It’s a terrible thing to get a note,” said Wayne Cyrway, a Rite-Aid executive who has responded to 60 robberies at his stores over the years. Some people “fall completely apart” afterward, he said.

“If you were that store clerk and an individual handed you a note saying they are robbing you, most reasonable individuals would feel intimidated and fearful,” said Sen. Scott Cyrway, R-Benton, the executive’s younger brother.

Carr said that as it is, robbers are going to learn that if they merely hand over a note without an explicit threat, they may not face a felony charge if they get caught. Maloney said she’s worried there may be more robberies as a result.

Legislators need to update the statute, Carr said, so crooks face the appropriate penalty.

“The proposed bill will clear up all the confusion,” Maloney said.

Curtis Picard, executive director of the Retail Association of Maine, said that a few years ago, pharmacies in the state were getting robbed almost weekly as addicts desperate for oxycodone and other drugs targeted them.

Often they used notes, he said, but they typically mentioned weapons or doing bodily harm so they met the standard for robbery anyway.

That problem eased, though, because of increased federal prosecutions and a shift among user to cheap heroin on the streets, Picard said.

Wayne Cyrway said, though, that “we’re afraid this is going to escalate again” as police target the heroin trade more effectively.

Legislators on the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee plan to discuss the proposed measure on Monday.

Maloney said she hopes that instead of having lawyers “opining about the Legislature intended” when it passed the robbery statute that the panel will clear it up directly.

“Instead of having us guess,” she said, lawmakers need to decide if intimidation like the scenario she presented is serious enough to warrant inclusion as a Class B felony.


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