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Grand Larceny from the Person of Another: Can a “Detective Investigation” be the Sole Basis of a NY Felony Complaint & Arrest Warrant

Often described as a lesser version of Robbery or a Robbery without force and violence, Grand Larceny from the Person of Another is a serious crime. An “E” felony, New York Penal Law 155.30(5) is punishable by as little as no jail, but up to as much as four years in state prison. In substance, a person is guilty of Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree pursuant to the “Person of Another” subsection (NY PL 155.30(5)) when that person takes property from another’s body, irrespective of its type or value.

There are many issues that New York criminal defense attorneys encounter defending their clients against felony allegations of Grand Larceny in this context. A recent Town Court decision, worth analyzing here, addresses one of these issues that a theft lawyer and his or her defendant may encounter.

In People v. JDG, 321/2012 (12050189), NYLJ 1202559253011, at *1 (Just., WE, Decided June 4, 2012), Ossining Town Justice John W. Fried addressed whether an arrest warrant should be denied and the accompanying felony complaint charging Fourth Degree Grand Larceny should be dismissed for inssuficiency.

Briefly, a police officer with the Village of Ossining filed a felony complaint with the goal of obtaining an arrest warrant for JDG. It was alleged that the defendant violated New York Penal Law 155.30(5) because the “defendant [JDG] did steal money from the person of the defendant.” There was no further statement of facts. The question before the Court was whether or not the basis of this complaint, a detective investigation, satisfied the sufficiency burden required by law.

At first glance, the felony complaint clearly had typographical error in that the defendant was alleged to have stolen money from himself instead of the person of another. Even assuming there was no error, the Court stated that it would still have denied the arrest warrant. The Court’s basis for denying the arrest warrant was clear. Instead of providing language that that the sworn statements contained in the complaint were based on the officer’s personal knowledge of the complainant or upon information and belief, the source of the information was merely a “detective investigation.”

The Court stated:

“It is well-settled law in New York that an accusatory instrument is legally insufficient if its rests on information and belief without a statement of the sources of the information and the grounds of the belief. (People v. James, 4 NY2d 482, 485 [1958] [“The reasons for this rule are said to be that a reasonable guarantee of probable cause is required before interference with a person’s liberty, ensuing from the issuance of a warrant, is justified.] See also, People v. Hussain, 25 Misc 3d 1245(A), 2009 WL 4912705 [Sup Ct, Bronx County 2009] [information charging criminal contempt for violating order of protection dismissed because the accusatory instrument failed to identify the protected person]; People v. Quinones, 190 Misc 2d 648 [NYC Crim Ct, Kings County 2002] [information not disclosing the name of complaining witness was defective].”

Here, the identification of a “detective investigation” as the only source of the complainant police officer’s information that the defendant committed a Grand Larceny was not legally sufficient. Without more, the Court was unable to determine what constituted the “detective investigation.” Was some of the evidence provided directly from the complainant’s observations while some from other officers and witnesses? If the latter was accurate, who where these individuals and what were their observations? Simply put, either more specific information from the complainant police officer was required or attributed to him.

Although People v. JDG is not an appellate decision, it is potentially a critical one. Prosecutors and the police have to meet the bare and standard requirement to meet legal sufficiency in criminal court complaints, felony complaints and arrest warrants. What is the reasonable cause to believe a crime has been committed and what non-hearsay evidence supports these claims? Allowing law enforcement to skirt their responsibilities, and more importantly the law, cannot be tolerated by any court at any level.

To educate yourself on any subsection of New York Fourth Degree Grand Larceny, whether it involves thefts in excess of $1,000, of credit cards or from the person of another, follow the link in this paragraph to Saland Law PC’s general information page for this Grand Larceny crime or the links above. Saland Law PC’s additional websites and blogs linked below have extensive information and analysis on all New York Grand Larceny crimes, statutes, legal decisions and cases in the news. These materials are tremendous resources for anyone seeking to gain a basic understanding of New York’s white collar theft laws.

Saland Law PC, a New York criminal defense firm, represents clients in all white collar and larceny arrests, indictments and trials throughout the New York City area. The two founding New York criminal defense attorneys at Saland Law PC previously served as Assistant District Attorneys in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office prior to establishing the criminal defense firm.

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