Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Larceny Defined

Leeanna Rossi, a professor of criminal justice at the Western New Mexico University in Deming, NM, has now published a definition of larceny in the local paper, The Deming Headlight. We have taken the liberty of quoting her in full:

"Last week, I defined embezzlement as a crime of theft. Another crime of theft is larceny, which is closely related. Larceny can be defined as: the trespassory taking and carrying away of personal property of another with the intent to steal.

Larceny is a crime against possession. For there to be a trespassory taking, it requires the wrongful taking of property from another's possession, so that if the defendant is already in rightful possession of the property at the time she takes it for her own use, she can not be guilty of larceny. She would instead be guilty of embezzlement. The difference is she can not be in lawful possession of the property at the time of the taking.

For example, Delia contracts to sell her house to Mike. The deal also includes items such as the furniture. Delia was allowed to remain in the house until closing. Mike closes and as he is moving into the house, he sees that some of the furniture is gone. Delia admits to taking the missing furniture and later selling them. Can Delia be convicted of larceny? No, because Delia removed and sold the furniture while she was in lawful possession of those items, prior to the transfer of title. Delia may be charged with fraudulent conversion but not larceny.

The defendant, to commit larceny, must not only commit a trespassory taking but must also carry the property away. The technical term for this is "asportation." Even moving the property a slight distance is sufficient. In many courts today, merely bringing the property under your dominion and control, without physical movement, may also be sufficient.

For example, David enters Tom's car, turns on the lights and starts the engine. At that point he is arrested. If actual movement is required for asportation, then David would not be charged with larceny. However, if the requirement for asportation is only having the car under his dominion and control, David could be charged with larceny.

As with embezzlement, personal property of another may include property which is both tangible (such as an auto) and intangible items (such as stocks and bonds). One of the glaring differences between larceny and embezzlement is that a person can not commit larceny of real property.

Next, property taken must belong to another. There can be no larceny if the property is co-owned by the defendant and another person. However, co-owners may be charged with embezzlement or false pretenses if other aspects of these crimes are met.

Finally, the intent to steal requires that the owner be permanently deprived of the property. Intent to take property temporarily is not sufficient.

For example, Sue, a 17 year old girl, enters the house of Bill and takes his bicycle. She later testifies she took the bike to get even with Bill for something he had done and she intended to bring it back but got caught before she could do so. She was not charged with larceny because she didn't have the intent to deprive the owner of his property permanently, only temporarily. However, for temporary taking, the defendant must also have the ability to return the property to its owner. This applies when property is taken and later abandoned. Even though there is no intent to permanently keep the property which is abandoned, the defendant's ability to return it to the owner is unlikely.

Almost all states divide larceny into at least two degrees: petit and grand. Grand larceny usually qualifies where the market value is more than a specific amount. When a defendant steals several items, which together qualifies for grand larceny, but no item meets it separately, it may be decided on the circumstances behind the crime. Also, property taken at the same time from several victims will usually be charged with grand larceny because all property taken is considered as part of a single scheme."

Professor Rossi previously defined Embezzlement which we highlighted in our post here.

Read Rossi's article in The Deming Headlight here.

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