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grand theft

Do You Need to Actually Drive a Car to Be Guilty of Theft?

It's a question that only raises more questions: Can a person who locks himself in another person's car without permission be convicted of vehicle theft? Who is this person? How'd they get into the car? Isn't the whole point of stealing a car, you know, to drive it away? But the Minnesota Supreme Court has an answer: Yes. To Drive or to Take? According to prosecutors, the owner of the vehicle left it idling in his driveway one winter morning to warm up, when Somsalao Thonesavanh knocked on his front door. The owner called 911, but by the time an officer arrived, Thonesavanh had locked himself in the car, still in the driveway. Police eventually persuaded him to leave the car, placed him under arrest, and charged him with motor vehicle theft. Under Minnesota's vehicle theft statute, someone is guilty of theft if he or she "takes or drives a motor vehicle without the consent of the owner or an authorized agent of the owner, knowing or having reason to know that the owner or an authorized agent of the owner did not give consent." Clearly Thonesavanh didn't "drive" the car; but did he "take" it? One Too Many Words The Minnesota Supreme Court admitted that the word "takes" in the statute is ambiguous, but decided it could clear up that ambiguity, agreeing with prosecutors that "all that is required to 'take' a motor vehicle is to adversely possess it." How does one adversely possess a car? The court cited the state's simple robbery statute, which requires only temporary control over property to count as theft. The court also pointed to a perhaps esoteric aspect of judicial decision-making: canons of interpretation. One such canon -- the one against "surplusage" -- "favors giving each word or phrase in a statute a distinct, not an identical, meaning." If the justices held that "takes" has the same meaning as "drives," one of those words would be extraneous, so lawmakers must have intended one of those words to have a different meaning. So yeah, lock yourself in someone else's car in Minnesota? You can be guilty of vehicle theft. Related Resources: Find Criminal Defense Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) MN Supreme Court: Car Doesn't Have to Move to Be Stolen (Minnesota Public Radio) Grand Theft Auto vs. Joyriding: Which Crime Depends on Time (FindLaw Blotter) When Does Borrowing Become Stealing? (FindLaw Blotter)
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What’s the Punishment for Selling Stolen Goods?

The law in every state allows some latitude when it comes to the crime of selling and buying stolen goods. The one factor that can make the most significance is whether buyer or seller knew that the goods were stolen. Although knowledge makes all the difference, however, not knowing generally will not allow a purchaser, nor seller, to keep the proceeds, nor the goods. Depending on the jurisdiction and the value of the goods, certain states can charge the offense as a petty crime. Petty crimes, typically, are misdemeanors, or infractions, that do not carry very stringent sentences. Usually, this is reserved for situations where the value of the goods is less than $500 or $1,000, and did not involve an additional crime, such as a weapons, assault or battery charge. If a seller has no knowledge the goods they are selling are stolen, it is likely they would be treated similarly to a buyer who had no knowledge. Value Matters When a prosecutor is deciding whether to charge a defendant with a misdemeanor or felony for selling stolen goods, the value of the goods is very significant. In California, for example, if the value is less than $950, then selling stolen goods cannot be charged as a felony. However, if there were other crimes committed in conjunction with the sale of the stolen goods, this could change how a prosecutor decides to charge the case. Misdemeanor convictions carry a maximum sentence of one year in jail, while felony convictions can carry sentences of several years or more. Typically, for a felony selling stolen goods charge in California, assuming there are no other crimes, a guilty party could be facing up to one to three years in prison. Under the federal law, selling stolen property across state lines could land you a ten year prison sentence. Business Types Matter If you are a private party found to be selling stolen goods, you may have less to be concerned about than if you are a pawn shop owner or swap meet vendor. In most states, these business operators face stricter regulation when it comes to selling goods.Generally, pawn shop owners and swap meet vendors need to keep track of where and from whom they received the items they sell. Some states require these businesses to conduct a reasonable inquiry into whether the item was legally obtained before they offer the item for sale. Related Resources: Find Criminal Defense Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Is It Illegal to Threaten Someone Online? (FindLaw Blotter) Arrested for Vaping? (FindLaw Blotter) Juvenile Carjacker Arrested Twice in 48 Hours (FindLaw Blotter)
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Juvenile Carjacker Arrested Twice in 48 Hours

Last week, a juvenile carjacker in New Jersey made headlines for being arrested twice within 48 hours for two separate carjacking incidents. Police released the minor into the custody of a relative after his arrest on a Friday for carjacking, and on Sunday, the teen was rearrested for another carjacking. The juvenile carjacker, surprisingly, is only 13 years old. Fortunately, there were no injuries as a result of his actions, however, police have linked an additional two to three car thefts from surrounding communities to the young suspect. Penalties for Juvenile Carjacking While criminal laws vary from state to state, juveniles can face very serious penalties for carjacking. The penalties can become exponentially worse if a weapon, or gun, is involved. Additionally, older juveniles may be charged as adults. While some juvenile offenses may be summarily dealt with if they are minor, or offenses that relate to the minor's age (such as possession of alcohol or tobacco), carjacking, especially when a weapon is involved, is not one of these. Unlike a joyriding charge, which can be charged as a misdemeanor in some jurisdictions, when a carjacker physically removes the driver of a vehicle by force and takes the keys and car, the likelihood is that even a juvenile will be charged with a felony. When a carjacker does not intend to permanently deprive the vehicle owner of possession, a joyriding charge may still apply, however, the act of stealing the car directly from the victim's possession will likely impose additional charges. Recent Trends Over the past few months, there have been several news stories across the country involving juvenile carjackings. The story out of New Jersey comes after a brutal story out of Oakland, California, where four juveniles punched an old lady and stole her vehicle. A month prior to that, a nearby city saw not only a juvenile carjacking, but it led to a high-speed pursuit, ending in a crash and arrest. In Denver, a juvenile carjacker that was fleeing from police was shot in the leg. Carjacking is a serious criminal offense that can land a juvenile in adult prison. Due to the fact that it involves more than simply taking the car, but potentially assault and/or battery (with or without a weapon), the charges tend to more serious than simply joyriding. Related Resources: Find Criminal Defense Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Juveniles and Age ("Status") Offenses (FindLaw's Learn About the Law) Shooting at George Zimmerman Illegal, Florida Man Learns (FindLaw Blotter) BB Guns Are Not Firearms, Minnesota Supreme Court Rules (FindLaw Blotter)
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How Much Do I Have to Steal to Be Charged With a Felony?

The fifty states all define crimes slightly differently, so there is not a single blanket answer for when a theft graduates from a misdemeanor to a felony. The difference between a misdemeanor and a felony is the severity of the crime involved, or in the case of a theft, the value of what was stolen. But there is more to it. Three factors impact a theft charge: what was stolen, how much was stolen, and the alleged thief's prior record. Petit or Grand? Perhaps you have heard of the expression petit theft (sometimes also called petty theft). Petit means small in French and petit thefts are small crimes, or misdemeanors. Some states limit petit theft to up to $500 or $1,000, charging a defendant with a felony if the item stolen is worth more than the statutory amount. But some states may charge differently depending on the type of item stolen, perhaps distinguishing between livestock and labor or services. Depending on the state there may also be a separate crime for a particular type of theft. Theft applies to almost anything stolen, including goods, money, livestock, or the value of labor and services. General or Specific? Depending on the state, the theft will either fall under the small or large category, petit or grand. But some types of theft get separate categories all their own. Obviously, stealing a car is a big deal. So much so that grand theft auto is its own, separate, felony charge. Grand means big in French and grand theft is simply a big steal. Prior Convictions Again it depends on the state, but a prosecutor can generally charge someone more severely when they have prior convictions for the same type of crime. Theft is a crime of moral turpitude, legally speaking, and it does tend to be punished more severely the more the defendant is accused. Depending on how the state statute is written, it is possible to steal something of minimal value -- like a candy bar -- and still trigger a felony conviction resulting in an extensive prison sentence. At that point, the charge is not based on what was stolen or what it was worth but on the defendant's own record in combination with the theft. It is also important to note that theft is considered a crime of moral turpitude for immigration purposes and even a conviction for the most minimal theft can impact an application. Got Caught? If you or someone you know has been charged with theft or anything else, do not delay. Speak to a criminal defense attorney right away. Criminal convictions can have serious consequences in all areas of a person's life. Get help defending yourself. Related Resources: Browse Criminal Defense Lawyers by Location (FindLaw Directory) Larceny Penalties and Sentencing (FindLaw) What Is the Statute of Limitations for Theft? (FindLaw Blotter)
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