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.
In People v. Palmer, KA 11-02369, NYLJ 1202769254265, at *1 (App. Div., 4th, Decided September 30, 2016), the defendant was accused of stealing a motorized wheelchair at a hospital and rummaging through other property. Security observed the defendant driving around the hospital grounds and ultimately attempting to leave with the motorized wheelchair when he was stopped and questioned. Although the defendant stated he was there to see a friend and was merely taking the wheelchair off the hospital campus to charge the battery, security – and both police and prosecutors – was having none of it. Despite his attempts to convince them not to, the police arrested the defendant who was later convicted for Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree for a wheelchair valued more than $1,000 and for Unauthorized Use of a Vehicle pursuant to New York Penal Law 165.06.
Putting aside the legal arguments about the circumstantial evidence and means by which prosecutors proved value in excess of $1,000.00 beyond a reasonable doubt, what struck me as interesting, was that a motorized wheelchair constituted a vehicle for the purpose of PL 165.06. The second degree crime occurs if the accused has a prior offense, but the pertinent language is found in PL 165.05, Third Degree Unauthorized Use of a Vehicle. That crime occurs when you knowingly take, operate, or rides in a vehicle knowing you do not have consent of the owner.
I don’t know if there is a lesson here to be learned. Arguably, the fact that the motorized wheelchair satisfied the elemental burden of PL 165.06 as a vehicle will certainly catch the “casual” or “unintended” thief off guard, but it was somewhat irrelevant in this set of presented facts. Irrespective of whether it constituted a vehicle, the value was in excess of $1,000.00. Both crimes for which the defendant was convicted were Class “E” felonies and carried a sentence as predicate of one and a half to three years and up to two to four years in prison.
Remember, property comes in different forms. The theft of some types of property are automatically felonies such as a credit card even where you knowingly steal a wallet, but don’t know there is a credit card inside. Other felonies involving theft and possessing stolen property are based solely on value. Whatever crime you are arrested or indicted for, examine the applicable law with your attorney to determine whether or not the evidence satisfies the burden prosecutors much ultimately reach.
Educate yourself on theft, larceny and stolen property crimes, how they are committed and the manner in which they are prosecuted. Review this blog and the content linked here as well as the websites below. Consult with your criminal lawyer and prepare the a defense that best works for your given situation.
Saland Law PC is a New York City based criminal defense law firm established by two former Manhattan prosecutors. The New York criminal lawyers at Saland Law PC represent clients in all white collar theft and fraud crimes throughout the New York City and suburban region.