Thefts and larcenies in New York can take many different forms. New York State Penal Law 155.05 provides the various theories on which a criminal prosecution for larceny can be based. The distinctions between these various kinds of theft can be subtle, but identifying those distinctions can have an enormous impact on a criminal case. Two of these sub-types of larceny are commonly referred to as Larceny by False Pretense and Larceny by False Promise, which seem almost identical by their title, but describe two significantly different circumstances and allegations.
In New York, a court may impose restitution as a component of sentence, in addition to the more commonly understood penalties of jail time, community service, orders of protection, and so on. Section 60.27 of the New York State Penal Law permits a sentencing court to order restitution to the victim of the crime in addition to any other dispositions authorized by statute, meaning it can be tacked on to any other type of sentence. Restitution on criminal charges may not include sums for pain and suffering or liquidated damages, as in civil cases, and it may not be greater than what is necessary to compensate the victim of a crime for out-of-pocket losses. All of this can be a part of a disposition or plea involving Grand Larceny and Criminal Possession of Stolen Property crimes and, as such, it is something that you and your criminal defense lawyer should work through before resolving your case.
Identity Theft is an issue that affects more and more people in New York and the country every year. In this digital age, criminal charges relating to Identity Theft can become extremely complex and difficult to analyze. For example, can a person unlawfully “possess” someone’s credit card number without actually possessing the card itself? Is a person unlawfully assuming another person’s identity when they use a stolen credit card number? In New York, the answer to these questions was given in People v. Barden, 117 A.D.3d 216 (1st Dept. 2014) as “yes” and “no” respectively.
Any conviction in New York for either Grand Larceny or felony Criminal Possession of Stolen Property carries the potential of serious imprisonment and incarceration. Even the “lowest” felony crimes – Fourth Degree Grand Larceny (New York Penal Law 155.30) and Fourth Degree Criminal Possession of Stolen Property (New York Penal Law 165.45) – have possible sentences of up to four years in prison. In other words, if you steal or knowingly possess stolen property worth a hair over $1,000 but no more than $3,000, jail is on the table in the eyes of the law.
Other than prison or jail, what are the financial ramifications, if any, involving restitution and fines and what is your exposure?
You possess a $15,000.00 Rolex watch without the permission of the owner. You have an iPhone belonging to another person and he or she never gave you permission or authority to possess it. Certainly, if the owner never gave you the right to take, possess or have his or her property, whatever it may be and irrespective of its value, the fact that you possessed that property without a right to do so is proof of your guilt of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property pursuant to New York Penal Law Article 165? Although much depends on how prosecutors draft an accusatory instrument, without more than asserting you didn’t have permission, your criminal lawyer may successfully secure a dismissal of the complaint alleging Criminal Possession of Stolen Property.
In pertinent part, you are guilty of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property when you both knowingly possess the stolen property and when you do so with the purpose or objective to benefit yourself or a third party or, alternatively, to prevent the recovery of the property by the rightful owner. Just like Petit Larceny and Grand Larceny, if the amount or value of the property in question exceeds $1,000, $3,000, $50,000 or $1,000,000 the degree of the felony is enhanced in severity.
Possessing stolen property in New York is a crime. Its likely surprising to no one – from your second cousin to your criminal defense attorney – that in addition to the theft of property, Petit Larceny or Grand Larceny, when you knowingly possess stolen property you have committed either a misdemeanor or a felony. Without breaking out each and every subsection of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property where certain types of property equate to specific felony crimes, the routine way the NYPD, local or county police, and the District Attorney determine the applicable degree of a Criminal Possession of Stolen Property arrest charge is value based. That means if it the property, no matter what it may be, is less than $1,000.00 it is a misdemeanor and if the value is greater than $1,000.00, $3,000.00, $50,000.00 or $1 million, then the crime is a felony that escalates from an “E” to a “B” respectively.
Well, the above is all great and good, but what if the property you are arrested for possessing was not stolen in the first place? Does it make a difference if you believed it was stolen even though it was not? What about if in fact it was stolen property, but you believed it was not? Why is this worthy of discussion? Because as you can consult with your criminal defense lawyer, should you be charged with any degree – misdemeanor or felony – of Criminal Possession of Stolen property – PL 165.40, PL 165.45, PL 165.50, PL 165.52 or PL 165.54 – and you are either unaware the property was stolen or it in fact was not stolen, then you have a defense to this set of crimes.
Depending how aggressive or creative a District Attorney gets, sometimes what is one simple act becomes multiple criminal charges from the onset of an arrest or at some point during the prosecution. While the law allows an Assistant District Attorney in New York to supersede an information (criminal complaint) or present criminal charges to a Grand Jury that were not initially on a felony complaint, when such actions are taken a criminal defense lawyer must be on his or her respective “game.” Why? Some charges may be obvious on their faces but others not so much. Complicating matters, what may seem like a simply case with limited exposure can ultimately involve a crime with potentially significant consequences. People v. Gavrilov, 2015 Slip Op. 51562 (App. Term 2nd Dept. 2015) is such a case where the conduct and the charged crimes did not exactly coalesce. There, the defendant entered a vehicle and stole some property. Charged with Petit Larceny, New York Penal Law 155.25, and Fifth Degree Criminal Possession of Stolen Property, New York Penal Law 165.40, the defendant also found himself facing Third Degree Unauthorized Use of a Vehicle, New York Penal Law 165.05. Although not a more serious offense, a very interesting question was raised. Did prosecutors overreach by charging the defendant with PL 165.05 or does wrongfully entering and stealing from a vehicle also violate the Unauthorized Use of a Motor Vehicle statute?
Most people rightfully think a larceny or theft occurs when they wrongfully and without permission steal or take someone’s property. Usually, but not always, that person refuses to return the property or simply doesn’t tell the victim that he or she took it in the first place. Simply, the rightful owner lost his or her television, mobile phone, car, or good old fashion cash forever. However, in New York, a theft or larceny need not be a permanent taking. In fact, it need not be a taking at all in the common way we think about such acts. According to the New York Penal Law and the plethora of cases that analyze and interpret it (please note the shout out to the “Three Amigos”), a police officer can arrest, District Attorney prosecute and judge or jury convict you of a crime if you fail to return property. How you ask? New York Penal Law 155.05(2)(b) specifically addresses how one can be charged with a Petit Larceny or Grand Larceny Crime in New York when one acquires lost property.
No, there is not a crime of cell phone theft, iPhone stealing or smart phone heist in the New York Penal Law. However, merely because there is no specific statute addressing cell phones, mobile phones, smart phones and other personal devices such as iPads does not mean there is no crime or crimes that occur when one is stolen. On a base level, whenever you steal anything – from a pen or shoelace to a million dollars in cash or a diamond engagement ring – a larceny has occurred. Irrespective of value, the theft is a Petit Larceny and the possession of the property is Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Fifth Degree as set forth in New York Penal Law 155.25 and New York Penal Law 165.40 respectively. These offenses are both class “A” misdemeanors.
Putting behind the misdemeanor crimes the NYPD will arrest you for and a District Attorney will prosecute, the following entry will briefly examine some crimes for cell phone theft routinely seen by New York criminal lawyers and defense attorneys throughout New York City District Attorney’s Offices in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx as well as other prosecutors’ offices elsewhere in suburban counties such as Westchester, Rockland, Putnam and Dutchess.
While most people think of larceny and criminal possession of stolen property in two or three general ways – shoplifting, embezzlement or some scheme to steal money – perception is not reality. As a New York criminal defense attorney and former Manhattan Assistant District Attorney I have personally defended or prosecuted a wide variety of thefts that range from complicated schemes involving multiple people and millions of dollars to incidents as “simple” as a person stealing a laptop from bar or restaurant. In most cases, the dollar amount of the property regardless of its nature or type is the controlling factor as to the severity of the crime. For example, when the value of the property is more than $1,000 then the offense is a Fourth Degree Grand Larceny or Fourth Degree Criminal Possession of Stolen Property pursuant to New York Penal Law 155.30 and 165.45 respectively. Class “E” felonies, these crimes would not be applicable if the dollar amounts were less or more. In those cases the applicable crime to charge could be Petit Larceny or Fifth Degree Criminal Possession of Stolen Property on the lower end and higher degree felony for values exceeding $3,000, $50,000 or $1 million. Similarly, when a theft or larceny involves a specific type of property, such as a credit card, secret scientific material, a firearm or certain vehicles, then the offense is automatically a felony even if the financial threshold has not been met.
Continuing with the vehicle theme, while the following case is not one of those that is based on vehicle type and value as specified in PL 155.30(8) and PL 165.45(5), it is a bit off from the normal context of these types of crimes. Why is it worth blogging about? Because the case represents that whether or not you subjectively believe something has value or your conduct is not an extortion, embezzlement or shoplift, a judge or jury can still convict you for a felony crime. You’ve been warned.