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Conviction for larceny reversed, where the theft was not "from a person"

By Daniel T. Geherin

Conviction for larceny reversed, where the theft was not "from a person"

An individual can be charged with a variety of offenses related to "theft," from robbery and embezzlement to shoplifting, depending on the circumstances of the case. Regardless of the charge, it is incumbent on the prosecution to prove all elements of the offense in order to convict a defendant. If the prosecution fails in this task, any conviction is erroneous and must be reversed.

The Michigan Supreme Court discussed such a situation, involving the charge of "larceny from the person," in the recent case ofPeople v. Smith-Anthony.

A defendant accused of larceny

The defendant was shopping at a department store in Southfield, when a plain clothes loss-prevention officer began observing her through closed-circuit television monitors. According to the officer, the defendant appeared nervous and was darting her eyes in the direction of sales associates and customers.

The officer proceeded to the sales floor, but remained at a distance, allegedly observing the defendant shove a perfume box into her shopping bag. Outside the store, the officer stopped the defendant and she was arrested and charged with both larceny from the person and unarmed robbery.

A jury acquitted the defendant of the robbery charge, but convicted her of larceny from the person. The defendant appealed her conviction, arguing she had not committed larceny "from a person."

Was the larceny really from a person?

On appeal, the Michigan Supreme Court first had to determine the meaning of the phrase "from the person" under the law. The court chose to adhere to a definition which requires the victim of the larceny to be immediately present when the property is taken.

The facts of the case did not meet this standard. At best, the loss-prevention officer was only "fairly close" to the defendant. Initially, she had been observing via closed-circuit monitors, and even when she entered the sales floor, the officer was following the defendant at a distance, while pretending to be another shopper.

Even though the officer was close enough to observe the defendant's behavior, there was ample intervening space between the officer-the alleged victim here-and the perfume bottle. Therefore, the defendant did not take the perfume in the immediate presence of the officer.

While there is an exception, for when a defendant uses force or threats to keep a victim away from his or her property, this exception did not apply here. The defendant threatened no one with regard to the perfume.

Thus, the defendant's criminal conviction was reversed.

Treat any theft charge seriously

It is common for a prosecutor to be aggressive in charging theft offenses, as in the case above, where both robbery and larceny from the person were alleged, rather than, for example, shoplifting. As a result, any accusation to theft, no matter how seemingly minor, should be treated very seriously.

If you are accused of a theft-related crime, it is important that you immediately contact an experienced criminal defense attorney in Washtenaw County with a proven track record of helping people in situations like yours.