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Escalating the Degree of a Grand Larceny Crime in New York: When Aggregation Applies to a Theft Crime

Ask any New York criminal defense attorney who regularly practices in the criminal court of our state. Not all thefts are created equal. The New York Penal Law breaks down Larceny into distinct degrees, ranging from Petit Larceny to Grand Larceny (NY P.L. 155.25, 155.30, 155.35, 155.40, 155.42). Prosecutors in New York City, the neighboring boroughs, and in the surrounding counties of Westchester and Rockland, will designate the proper Larceny charge based on an estimate of the value of the property that has allegedly been stolen. Many times part of being an effective White-Collar Criminal defense lawyer is getting the charges against your client reduced (so that your client can face potentially less, little, or no prison time) especially if the evidence is too stacked against your client for an acquittal. Conversely, just as criminal defense lawyers attempt to reduce charges, prosecutors will try to increase the degree of an offense. One such tool prosecutors utilize to aid in this effort is aggregation. Instead of charging an accused defendant thief with multiple lesser larceny charges, they may be able to add up the value of the total property stolen from several different thefts. So if a person commits six separate thefts of $501 each, instead of charging the thief with six separate counts of Petit Larceny (a misdemeanor) the prosecution may be able to charge the thief with Grand Larceny in the Third Degree (a class D felony). What was once punishable by at most up to a year in jail is now punishable by up to two and one-third to seven years in state prison. Obviously, the difference is enormous.

Aggregation is not applicable in all instances involving multiple thefts. Generally, aggregation is permissible where separate acts of theft are from the same owner if the successive thefts are pursuant to a single sustained criminal scheme. An examination of the pertinent New York case law helps “flesh out” aggregation. The seminal New York case on aggregation, People v. Cox, 286 N.Y. 137, established the aggregation principle (the case dates back to 1941 so the monetary values are different, but the legal principles holds true). The case centered on a defendant who was a turnstile maintainer in the subway system. Over a two-year period he stole batches of nickels, about $25 at a time, from the subway system. However, in aggregate the nickels totaled about $2,000 dollars. Cox argued that because his theft occurred over a period of time and at no one time exceeded the sum of $100 he was guilty of numerous Petit Larceny crimes rather than one Grand Larceny (the ceiling for petit larceny then was $100). The court ruled that the evidence showed that the “entire taking was governed by a single intent and a general illegal design.” The length of period over which the thefts occurred was irrelevant. Thus, Cox was convicted as a felon (Grand Larceny) not the misdemeanor.

On the other hand, the more recent case People v. Fayette, 239 A.D.2d 696, shows the limits of aggregation. Here the defendant engaged in a shoplifting spree over the course of about a year at several stores that sold videos and small tools. The prosecution was unable to establish the value of the merchandise the defendant stole on each shoplifting incident, but aggregated the amounts to reach the statutory monetary threshold for Grand Larceny in the Third Degree (at least $3,000 value of stolen property). The Appellate Division found two problems with aggregation here, which ultimately led the court to reduce the charges. First, there was no proof that the total value of merchandise taken from a single store exceeded $3,000 though they had videotaped recordings of the thefts. Also, and more importantly for our purposes, the defendant’s activities were not confined to one single store. The court very clearly stated that aggregation was limited only to instances where the defendant stole from one person or entity. In Cox, the defendant stole from the subway system (the City) while in Fayette, the defendant had one scheme, but stole from multiple stores.

Clearly, aggregation is a tool that can be effectively utilized by prosecutors to increase the level of a crime and by extension the possible punishment. However, it’s important to understand the limitations of the law as to ensure prosecutors do not become over zealous as to circumvent its spirit.

To educate yourself further about the varying degrees and types of theft and larceny crimes in New York, such as New York Grand Larceny crimes, please review and read through NewYorkTheftAndLarcenyLawyers.Com. Moreover, the New York criminal lawyers at Crotty Saland PC also maintain CrottySaland.Com (a New York white collar, violent and property crime website), NYDeskAppearanceTicket.Com (a misdemeanor crime website dedicated to New York City Desk Appearance Tickets) and the NewYorkCriminalLawyerBlog.Com. The latter blog has significant analysis of cases in the news, legal decisions and criminal statutes.

Crotty Saland PC is a New York City criminal defense firm founded by two former Manhattan prosecutors. The New York criminal lawyers at Crotty Saland PC represent those charged with or investigated for white collar and theft crimes through the New York City region.

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