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Stealing Worthless Property in New York: Have You Committed a Crime?

A very simple (yes, very simple) way to examine or understand New York’s theft and larceny laws is to look at value of property that is alleged to have been stolen. If you steal property in excess of $1,000, then your arrest would be for a felony Grand Larceny. If value is less than this amount, then your arrest would be for a misdemeanor Petit Larceny. While I have drafted numerous entries addressing the importance of value in a New York larceny arrest as well as how that value is ascertained by New York courts, there are some questions outstanding. Is it possible to be convicted of either Grand Larceny or Petit Larceny where there is no value? The answer to this question is “yes.”

A legal decision that is directly on point and addresses this issue is People v. Freeman, 148 A.D.2d 467 (2nd Dept. 1989). There, a Brooklyn (Kings County) jury convicted the defendant at trial for “Grand Larceny from the Person” as codified in New York Penal Law 155.30(5). The People proved beyond a reasonable doubt in that case that Freeman stole a purse from a woman. The purse contained pieces of torn currency. Although the court denied the request of the criminal defense attorney, the defense lawyer asked that the jury be charged with the lesser offense of Attempted Grand Larceny under the theory that the property ultimately taken – pieces of torn currency – had no value.

Unfortunately for the defendant, the Appellate Division upheld the trial court’s decision not to instruct the jury as requested. First, the appellate court was clear in affirming that you are guilty Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree if you take property from the person of another (they are holding or wearing it, for example), “regardless of its nature and value.” Here, even though the pieces of cash were valueless, it was taken by removing the property from the complainant. Although the court did not further define “property,” this decision should be clear as to its message. In order to be convicted of a New York theft or larceny crime, there need not always be a value. If not Grand Larceny, Petit Larceny would likely be a viable charge. While value is charge specific (some crimes require minimum values while others merely require certain types of property – credit cards or secret scientific material), no value will not protect your from criminal conduct.

It is worth noting that no value and value that cannot be ascertained are not one in the same. That is, if your criminal lawyer is arguing with the prosecution whether an item or object has a value of $1,100 or $100, the courts have a remedy to address these situations. Assuming the court cannot determine the market value as well, the New York Penal Law allows a court to set or assign value in a general amount less than $250. Obviously, if the People are seeking to prove a felony Grand Larceny, this provision of the law could be extremely beneficial in a value-based arrest as more than $1,000 is the necessary threshold in any felony indictment or offense.

The message to glean from Freeman is that a failure to establish value will not exonerate you in a larceny case. While it may impact the degree of the charge if that offense is based in value, some Grand Larceny crimes are felonies based purely on the item alleged to have been wrongfully taken.

Because there are many statutes and legal decisions that make up the laws of Petit Larceny, Grand Larceny and Criminal Possession of Stolen Property, no one blog entry will serve as sufficient guidance to navigate a theft arrest in New York. A review of the links above and below will provide significant and practical insight into the various crimes and offense that compromise New York’s larceny laws while giving you some basis to begin your discussions with your criminal lawyer.

Crotty Saland PC is a New York criminal defense firm established by two former Manhattan prosecutors. The New York criminal defense attorneys at Crotty Saland PC represent clients investigated and arrested for Grand Larceny and other theft related crimes in New York City as well as many of the surrounding suburbs,