In the overwhelming amount of New York Grand Larceny or Criminal Possession of Stolen Property criminal cases, the value of the property stolen will play a significant role in the defendant’s charge. Under New York Penal Law 165.45, Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Fourth Degree, it is a Class E felony to knowingly possess stolen property with a value in excess of $1,000. Under New York Penal Law 155.30, Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree, it is a Class E felony to steal property with a value in excess of $1,000. In both instances, the seriousness of the offense hinges upon the value of the property in question. In fact, as noted above and with just a few limited exceptions, the dollar value of stolen property will be the determining factor in the seriousness of most larceny-related offenses.
The value of property, however, is not always static. Imagine, for instance, a thief that robs a jewelry store (keep in mind this may also be a crime of Burglary, but that offense and its elements will not be discussed in this entry). When the thief commits the crime, he or she steals a bracelet made of one ounce of gold. At the time of the theft, gold is valued at $800 an ounce. Several months later, the thief sells the bracelet to a fence. When the fence receives the bracelet, gold is valued at $1,100 an ounce. Eventually, police discover that the fence is in possession of the stolen piece of jewelry. When the discovery is made, gold is valued at $900 an ounce. Some time later, prosecutors wish to finally charge the suspects based upon their actions. At the time when this occurs, gold is valued at $1,500 an ounce. Obviously, the legal issue or questions is clear. How is the value of property determined and when is that determination made?
As you may have noticed, the fluctuation in the value of this stolen property can raise serious questions regarding the crime that the defendants can potentially be charged with. If the value of the gold is taken at the time of the theft, the thief will face a misdemeanor crime of Petit Larceny (New York Penal Law 155.25) because the value is $1,000 or less. If the value of the gold is taken at the time the bracelet is sold to the fence, both the thief and the fence will face Class E felony possession or larceny charges because the value of the property exceeds $1,000. If, however, prosecutors take the value of the gold at the time the bracelet is discovered in the fence’s possession, both will again face the misdemeanor crime of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Fifth Degree (New York Penal Law 165.45). Finally, if prosecutors take the value of the gold at the time they charge the suspects with their alleged crimes, each will again face a felony offense. Given the varying degrees of seriousness in the offenses the defendants can potentially be charged with, the time at which the value of the property is considered is a matter of extreme importance. Fortunately, New York criminal lawyers and prosecutors alike have some guidance after an appellate court answered this question.
In People v. Correa, the defendant was charged with two larceny-related offenses: Criminal Possession of Stolen Property and Grand Larceny, among other crimes. Each of these charges is a felony; thus, prosecutors were required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the stolen property in question had a market value of greater than $1,000. At trial, a jury was convinced that prosecutors had met this burden, and the defendant was convicted on both counts.
The defendant appealed this conviction. In his appeal, he argued that the trial court had failed to properly instruct the jury regarding the proper meaning of “market value” for the property in question. Ultimately, however, this argument was not persuasive. Without referencing the actual instruction, the Court explained that jurors must simply be instructed that the value of stolen property is the market value of the items at the time and place of the crime. After reviewing the instruction that the jury was offered at the defendant’s initial trial in Correa, the Court held that the instruction the trial court had given properly conveyed this message. Therefore, the jury had properly been instructed on when the market value of the stolen property should be considered, and the defendant’s conviction was affirmed.
Simply put, if you stole property valued at $5,000, but three weeks later that same property was valued at a mere $500, the controlling value used to ascertain the level of the initial theft and Grand Larceny would be that at the time of the offense ($5,000). While the property may have decreased in value over days or years, you, as the accused, do not get the long-term benefit in how your initial conduct is prosecuted.
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A criminal defense firm founded by two former Manhattan prosecutors, the New York criminal defense attorneys at Crotty Saland PC represent those investigated for or accused of white collar and theft crimes throughout the New York City area.