Wednesday, April 10, 2013

When Is a Theft Not a Theft

Recently a client came to me accused of theft.  It seems that he and his longtime "friend" had come to an agreement regarding borrowing a truck.  The longtime "friend" agreed to rent the client the truck for one month for $500.  Money exchanged hands and my client put his tools into it and all was good.  At the end of the month my client advises that he agreed to purchase the truck for an additional $1000 (the truck was rather old and used).

The "friend" claims no such agreement took place and preferred theft charges against my client.  My client did not know this until he was stopped by the police during a felony stop.  If you don't know it, a felony stop in Maryland involves police with their guns out ordering you around.  My client was quite surprised and extremely compliant.  During the course of the investigation my client produced the written lease agreement.

The police called the "friend" who did not tell them anything about the lease and claimed that my client was a stranger.

Prior to trial I presented the lease evidence to the prosecutor.  Despite this evidence of a lease, even though the lease was expired by one week when my client was pulled over and arrested for theft, it did not persuade the prosecutor to drop the charges.

My client was charged with theft in violation of criminal law 7-104, theft of a motor vehicle in violation of Maryland criminal law 7-105, and unauthorized use of property.  At trial during cross examination the "friend" testified that he only knew my client through a third person and that my client was somewhat of a stranger.  The officer testified that the "friend" never mentioned anything about a lease or about knowing the client.

When the state rested their case I asked the judge to acquit my client of all of the criminal charges.  I argued that under Maryland law the commission of the theft (the actual taking of the item) must coincide with the criminal intent to take the item.  In other words, when you are stealing something you need to know at that time that you are stealing something.  Clearly, in this case that was not the situation.  My client received the truck with the permission of the "friend".  I had case law to back up my argument.  Despite this argument the judge at that point acquitted my client on only one of the charges.

We needed to put on a defense.  My client took the stand.  My client testified that he knew the "friend" for 17 years and the "friend" had been at the client's home on many occasions.  My client also testified that he had made an agreement to purchase the truck and paid an additional $500 after the lease expired.

At the conclusion of the case the judge acquitted my client of all of the criminal charges.

I told my client that in the future he should get receipts for his cash payments.  A receipt for that purchase payment may have avoided the charges altogether.

No comments: