LARCENY BY STEALING IN A BUILDING
This blog post will answer the following legal questions on the crime of larceny by stealing in a building (ALL):
- What does Commonwealth law say on larceny by stealing in a building?
- How does the Commonwealth prove a defendant guilty of the crime of larceny by stealing in a building?
- What does “taking and carrying” away mean?
- What is legally considered to be “property”?
- How does the Commonwealth prove “intent to deprive permanently”?
- What has case law ruled on regarding the crime of larceny by stealing in a building?
- Does larceny by stealing in a building extend to any other locations besides a building proper?
What does Commonwealth law say on larceny by stealing in a building?
According to Commonwealth law:
“Whoever steals in a building shall be punished…”
Stealing is legally considered to be the wrongful taking of personal property that belongs to someone else with the intent to deprive that person of the property permanently.
Note that similar, but separate larceny-related crimes include the following (ALL):
How does the Commonwealth prove a defendant guilty of the crime of larceny by stealing in a building?
In order to prove a defendant guilty of the crime of larceny by stealing in a building, the Commonwealth must prove all of the following elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt (ALL):
- That the defendant took and carried away property
- That at the time the property was being kept safe by virtue of being in a building
- That the property belonged to someone other than the defendant
- That the defendant took the property with the intent to deprive the owner of it permanently
The Commonwealth must prove that the property was being protected and kept safe by virtue of being in the building rather than being under the watchful eye or personal care of someone in the building.
The Commonwealth must prove that the property was owned or possessed by a person other than the defendant. This can be proved by direct evidence that someone else owned or possessed the property. In some cases, it can be reasonable to infer this from the surrounding circumstances of the situation in question. Note that the Commonwealth is NOT required to prove who owned or held the property, as long as it proves that the defendant did not.
Note that the identity of the owner does NOT need to be alleged if the property in question is described with sufficient certainty.
Note also that “owner” of a property includes anyone in actual or “constructive” possession.
What does “taking and carrying” away mean?
“Taking and carrying away”is accomplished if the property is physically transferred from the place where it is being kept.This does not matter if the transfer involved only slight movement, or if it lasted for only a short time.
What is legally considered to be “property”?
- Movable items of personal property
- Bank notes
- Public records
- Anything that is part of or attached to real estate
- Apartment security deposits
- Electronically processed or stored data, either tangible or intangible
- Domesticated animals, including dogs, birds, and other animals normally kept in confinement
How does the Commonwealth prove “intent to deprive permanently”?
The Commonwealth must prove that the defendant intended to deprive the owner of the property in question permanently. The Commonwealth can prove this by direct evidence or by inference from the surrounding circumstances.
For example, if a person takes the property of another and disposes of it with utter indifference to whether the owner recovers its possession, an inference can be made of intent to deprive the person in question of the property in question permanently.
What has case law ruled on regarding the crime of larceny by stealing in a building?
The following is a list of the major decisions ruled on by Commonwealth courts on the criminal offense of larceny by stealing in a building (ALL):
- Commonwealth v. Luckis(1868) ruled that a wallet does not need to necessarily be removed from a victim’s pocket for theft to be alleged. However, the defendant must for an instant at least have had perfect control of the property.
- Commonwealth v. Sullivan(1870) ruled that a person who orders goods is in constructive possession of them once delivered to a common carrier, absent a shipping agreement to the contrary.
- Commonwealth v. Finn(1871) ruled that a person could legally steal from a thief.
- Gordon v. Mass. (1965) ruled that an “owner” includes anyone with a possessory or property interest. A complaint about “the property of x” legally reads as “the property of x, or of another but in x’s actual or ‘constructive’ possession”. A driver with a shared dominion of a registered vehicle in his or her spouse’s name is legally considered to be “the owner”.
- Commonwealth v. Salerno(1970) ruled that taking could be proved by circumstantial evidence.
- Commonwealth v. Flowers(1973) ruled that transfer of property from a victim’s control to a thief’s is sufficient to proceed with prosecution under this statute. Literal “carrying away” is not required. Transfer can be through an agent or a victim.
- Commonwealth v. Bradley(1974) ruled that momentary transfer is sufficient to proceed with prosecution under this statute.
- Commonwealth v. Fielding(1976) ruled that any separation of property from a victim’s dominion, even if brief in space and time, is sufficient to proceed with prosecution under this statute.
- Commonwealth v. Beckett(1977) ruled that intent to commit larceny from a welfare department can be inferred from circumstances.
- Commonwealth v. Ellison(1977) ruled that intent to make restitution later is not a defense to larceny by stealing in a building. It is not enough that the theft be committed within a building. The building—rather than a particular person—must be protecting the property.
- Commonwealth v. Youraski(1981) ruled that intellectual property, such as a taped performance, is NOT subject to a larceny statute.
- Commonwealth v. Stephens(1982) ruled that it is sufficient to prosecute theft if the victim put property in a bag at the orders of the defendant, though the defendant never touched the property in question.
- Commonwealth v. Souza(1986) ruled that the identity of an owner does NOT need to be proved. Only that the owner was NOT the defendant needs to be proved. As long as the defendant is not mislead, a misnomer of the owner is immaterial.
- Commonwealth v. Graham(2004) ruled that larceny in a building is a felony regardless of the value of the property stolen.
Does larceny by stealing in a building extend to any other locations besides a building proper?
YES, larceny by stealing in a building applies also to stealing in a ship, vessel, or railroad car.
IF YOU OR A LOVED ONE HAVE BEEN CHARGED WITH LARCENY BY STEALING IN A BUILDING, AND YOU NEED AN EXPERIENCED CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER WORKING ON YOUR SIDE TO PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS, PLEASE CONTACT CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY WILLIAM J. BARABINO.
CALL 781-393-5900 TO LEARN MORE ABOUT YOUR AVAILABLE DEFENSES.
Source: Instruction 8.540