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The Significance of Value in a Theft & Larceny Arrest: Understanding Market Value Part I

As a New York criminal defense attorney with extensive experience both representing those accused of white collar theft crimes as well as prosecuting and investigating the same, I fully understand that nobody ever wants to face a larceny charge. Frankly, it does not take a legal degree to understand that. It merely takes common sense. Nonetheless, if there is not strong factual or legal basis to obtain a dismissal or acquittal in a Grand Larceny or Criminal Possession of Stolen Property arrest, we must sometimes face the reality that a conviction is a strong possibility. Thus, it is important to remember that different degrees of Grand Larceny carry different potential punishments- some severe, some “manageable.” Whether you are charged with larceny in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, Westchester County or anywhere else in the New York City area, one of the main elements that most often determine the degree of the theft crime – under New York’s Penal Law Article 155 and New York Penal Law Article 165 – is the value of the allegedly stolen property.

For instance, a defendant who stole property worth more than $3,000, but $50,000 or less, may be convicted of Grand Larceny in the Second Degree pursuant to New York Penal Law 155.35. Here, a defendant would face up to seven years in state prison. Alternatively, a theft in excess of $1,000, but $3,000 or less, would result in a conviction for New York Penal Law 155.30, Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree, a class “E” felony. NY PL 155.30 carries a maximum sentence of four years in state prison. Continuing with the downgrading of charges, a defendant who stole property worth $1,000 or less would be convicted of New York Penal Law 155.25, Petit Larceny, a class “A” misdemeanor. This crime carries a maximum sentence of one year in jail.

In circumstances where a strong evidentiary defense is limited, the best defense a criminal lawyer can provide may be to show the court that the value of the property is less than what the prosecutor indicated. If a criminal defense attorney can establish this, he or she should be able to obtain a reduction in the larceny charges that you face to lesser charges as shown above. In this blog series (this is the first entry) I will walk through some of the ways the New York Criminal Justice system determines the value of the stolen property at issue so that you have a better understanding as to how, if applicable, the laws can be utilized to your advantage.

I want to start the discussion with the general rule: “Value” means the market value of the property at the time and place of the crime. This has been a long-standing principle in New York, which was first clearly stated in a 1959 Court of Appeals (NY’s highest Court) case People v. Irrizari, 5 N.Y.2d 142. In Irrizari, the defendant was convicted of three counts of Grand Larceny in the Second Degree (New York Penal Law 155.40) after stealing clothing from three different department stores. By way of admission and conclusive evidence it was established beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was guilty of the theft–the only issue on appeal was the value of the clothing. The defendant argued that the wholesale value of the clothing should be considered, because the retail value of the clothing was considerably higher in these high-end department stores. The lower court permitted the jury to consider both the wholesale price and the retail price when determining the value of the garments. The Court of Appeals firmly rejected this notion writing “it is obvious that neither cost nor wholesale value may be adopted as the appropriate measure where the larceny is from a department store…Market value…denotes not the value of the goods in the market in which the owner had purchased them or in which he could replace them, but the value in the market in which the goods were being traded, namely the price at which they would probably have been sold in the regular course of business at the time when and the place where they were stolen.”

A 1988 Brooklyn larceny case involving the theft of a television, People v. Bazo, 130 Misc.2d 1003, [Sup. Ct. Kings Co., 1988] illustrates a very important when analyzing this market value. As the court stated there, “Value and price are not necessarily synonymous. The price paid for an item merely reflects the agreement reached between a particular seller and a particular buyer. It does not establish market value since it is not necessarily the price upon which buyers and sellers would generally agree in the marketplace.”

In other words market value is the standard. Now in a capitalist economy like ours, price is often a very good indicator of the market value, but not in every instance. The courts will take a fair look at the overall market at the time and place of the theft to determine the value of the stolen goods. Obviously, should the sale price of an item at department store be $1,025 or $3,100, a legal argument establishing the market value as something even slightly less can mean the difference between facing more prison or jail on a higher degree crime or no felony at all.

To learn more about the valuation of stolen property in a New York larceny arrest, indictment or trial, review the future blogs on this specific topic. Further information on Grand Larceny, Criminal Possession of Stolen Property and other white-collar crimes is available through the links above and websites / blogs below.

Saland Law PC, a New York criminal defense firm founded by two former Manhattan prosecutors, represents clients throughout New York City and the surrounding suburbs.

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