Over the past 10 years, Vines has “specialized in stealing from cars,” prosecutor Thomas Bednar wrote in a sentencing memorandum. “His capers have made him something of a legend.”
The fact that someone can achieve such status for perpetrating nuisance crimes helps illustrate the challenge the city faces as it tries to hold back the tide of car break-ins, which are on the rise in 2012.
In the past year, there have been more than 8,000 across the city. In some places, including the H Street corridor and the Eastern Market area, the number is more than double what it was this time last year.
The majority of car break-ins, police say, are committed by a handful of offenders such as Vines, who strike repeatedly and cycle in and out of jail. Now the city has mounted a vigorous effort to get more prison time for Vines, an undertaking even his lawyer calls “remarkable.”
Vines is scheduled to be sentenced next month in two plea agreements for contempt and theft charges stemming from incidents in October and November. Prosecutors are asking for a four-year sentence, which would be the stiffest sentence for Vines by far — and the culmination of an enormous effort by residents and law enforcement.
“I have never seen a community work so hard to put one man in jail,” said Vines’s lawyer, Derrick Hamlin. Bednar wrote the 18-page memorandum, and residents submitted more than two dozen community impact statements for D.C. Superior Court Judge Ronna L. Beck to consider.
Hamlin declined to discuss the specifics of the cases but said his client disputes some of the charges. “Any time a car is broken into in the neighborhood, police say, ‘Let’s go find Mr. Vines,’ ” Hamlin said.
Vines, 48, has been convicted 29 times in the past 30 years, mostly for crimes on Capitol Hill. At a hearing last month, he told Beck he is in failing health and is addicted to drugs and alcohol. During a recent arrest, according to court records, officers found a crack pipe in his pocket.
When convicted, Vines’s sentences have generally been short. Prosecutors and judges have looked at his cases in isolation, often treating them as individual petty crimes. Some charges have been dropped because he took little of value — a Metro card, for example, or a handful of change.
“He has become the archetype of the neighborhood nuisance, an offender who gets himself arrested over and over for doing the same thing in the same neighborhood, showing no remorse,” reads Bednar’s memo.
The reason Vines has so many more arrests than convictions is that he often has many cases pending at one time and pleads them out “cheaply,” with one or two cases dismissed in return for one conviction, according to Bednar.