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Valuing Goods in a New York Grand Larceny & Stolen Property Case III: Assigning Value in an Illegitimate or “Free” Market

In this series of blogs we have been examining how the New York Criminal Courts determine the value of the allegedly stolen property at issue in a felony New York Criminal Possession of Stolen Property case or a New York Grand Larceny case. As New York criminal defense attorneys and former Manhattan prosecutors with significant experience in white collar and other larceny crimes throughout New York City, the surrounding boroughs and Westchseter, we understand how important it is to place an accurate value on stolen property. Prosecutors aim to give the highest value to property, because the higher the value the higher the degree of Grand Larceny charged; and of course, the higher the degree- say Grand Larceny in the Second Degree (NY PL 155.40) versus Grand Larceny in the Third Degree (NY PL 155.35)- the higher the potential punishment. In this final entry in this series on larceny and value, we want to examine how the NY criminal courts value property that has no real price on any legitimate market. For instance, what do courts do when the stolen property is a controlled substance? That’s right, what if someone steals your drugs (or something less “bad” too)!

The general standard in approaching this issue in a Criminal Possession of Stolen Property and Grand Larceny case is where the property in issue has no market value in the legitimate market, the market value in the illegitimate market may be used in determining the value. In other words, courts will look to the black market or ‘street price’ of the property. In truth, this is consistent with the original principle we discussed in the first blog of this series: “value” means the market value of the property at the time and place of the crime. It’s just that in the case of contraband, the market happens to be a potentially illegal or illegitimate one.

Another important standard used by the criminal courts, New York criminal defense attorneys and Assistant District Attorneys relating to the value of stolen property in a theft or larceny case, is that an uninvited taker of free goods or gifts is just as much a thief as if the goods were distributed for a price. Though a creative argument, a defendant cannot argue that they stolen something worth nothing because the original owner got it for free. This may seem obvious, but let’s take a look at a New York Court of Appeals case (highest court in the state), which utilized both these principles to determine the value for some stolen goods.

In People v. Colasanti, 35 N.Y.2d 434 (1974), the defendant was convicted of criminal possession of stolen property in the first degree NY P.L. 165.54, for stealing 600,000 librium pills. The defendant appealed the conviction arguing that the State failed to establish that the pills were valued in excess of $1,500 (a low number by today’s standards which would only amount to Grand Larceny in the 4th Degree, but at the time was above the threshold for 1st Degree). At the time of the crime, the pills were being distributed for free to the hospitals and physicians for experimental use, and so the defendant argued they had no “market price/value.” The court didn’t buy this argument and said the lower courts had established a valid price in conformity with NYS laws.

If you’ve been paying attention, you know that the fact that the experimental pills were distributed free of charge is of no benefit to the thief or criminal possessor. (Our second principle: “an uninvited taker of free goods is just as much a thief as if the goods were distributed for a price.”) Moreover, the court established the value by looking at the black market value of the pills–the price the thief would have obtained selling the pills on the streets. They found that the value exceeded the minimum threshold to sustain a conviction of possession of stolen property in the first degree.

As you can see much of the law in determining value of property actually seems to conform with common sense. Nonetheless, it is important to remember the three main principles I’ve discussed in this blog series which apply to both Grand Larceny and Criminal Possession of Stolen Goods: (1) Value is determined by the market value of the goods in question; (2) if the value cannot be determined look to the “replacement price; (3) if the goods have no ‘legitimate value’ the courts may look to the black market price for valuation.

To learn more about valuation in a New York Grand Larceny or Criminal Possession of Stolen Property case or to educate yourself on the statutes and crimes involving New York theft and larceny laws, review the links above or any of the websites and blogs listed below.

A New York criminal defense firm representing those accused of or investigated for theft and larceny crimes in the New York City area, Crotty Saland PC was founded by two former Manhattan prosecutors.