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How Prosecutors Can Use a Layperson and Not an Expert in Proving New York Grand Larceny and Stolen Property Cases

Sometimes in a New York Grand Larceny and Criminal Possession of Stolen Property arrest or trial, a criminal defense attorney challenges the value placed on property that his or her client allegedly stole. For obvious reasons, this is done to potentially reduced the degree and severity of the charged crime and to limit exposure to restitution if and when there is a conviction. This defense may be part of or distinct from an overall plan of attacking the prosecutor’s case, but one step in a defense that should not be ignored. Because of the critical importance value has to any theft, larceny or stolen property arrest, indictment or trial, I have dedicated many blog entries to this subject. This particular entry will examine how the District Attorney can present evidence to a jury as to value without an “expert”. In other words, for example, does law enforcement need the antique car dealer to testify that the vehicle in question is valued at $50,000.01 to elevate the crime from a Third Degree Grand Larceny to a Second Degree Grand Larceny? Is there another means by which evidence can establish this value and therefore the crime of PL 155.40 as opposed to PL 155.35? If so, what are those means?

People v. Adams, 8 A.D.3d 893 (3rd Dept. 2004), is a case that fortifies what is known to any competent criminal defense attorney who represents those accused of Grand Larceny and theft related crimes in New York. While best practice may be that an expert is used for valuation, in the right circumstances even a layperson can provide this information not merely at the pleading stage, but at trial where proof must reach the threshold of beyond a reasonable doubt.

In Adams, the the police arrested the defendant after he was caught stealing banquet supplies from the Crowne Royal Plaza Hotel. A two count indictment against Adam charged him with Fourth Degree Criminal Possession of Stolen Property and Fourth Degree Grand Larceny. These crimes, New York Penal Law 165.45 and New York Penal Law 155.30(1) respectively, are class “E” felonies with the potential of incarceration upon conviction in the amount of four years. The relevant issue here was whether or not the prosecution established that the value of the stolen goods exceeded $1,000 without the testimony or an expert or similar person. More specifically, as required by New York Penal Law 155.20(1), the District Attorney was required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt “market value of the property at the time and place of the crime, or if such cannot be satisfactorily ascertained, the cost of replacement of the property within a reasonable time after the crime.”

Here, there was nothing remotely expert or scientific used to analyze and determine the value of the property. As stated in the decision, the “hotel’s banquet manager, who regularly obtained price quotes and ordered supplies and equipment similar to the stolen property at issue. Kim identified photographs of the property taken at the time of defendant’s arrest and testified that, in his opinion, the items’ value would exceed $2,000 based on their condition.” Because the appellate court reviewed the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution (sorta’ the tie going to the runner and the tie is the People, not the defendant), the People met their legal burden.

It is likely that at the trial the manager vetted his experience and first hand knowledge with the stolen property even though he may not have been an “expert.” Could the same be used for cars, old baseball cards, or jewelry? Potentially yes. Is it better practice to have a third party expert in the respective valuation of the property in question? Absolutely. But do not question or doubt the strength of the People’s case in the event they cannot secure an expert. While it may not be a pleasant or politically correct saying, there are more than one way to skin a cat.

To educate yourself on New York criminal law and practice as it relates to Grand Larceny and Criminal Possession of Stolen Property crimes, consult with one of the New York criminal lawyers and former Manhattan prosecutors at Crotty Saland PC or a criminal defense attorney of your choosing. The foundation to further your understanding on these crimes is available on this blog as well as the other blog and websites linked below.

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