Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Going to prison for Felony Burglary because you shoplifted? It can happen in Nevada!

So let's talk a little about "intent" and what it means in a legal sense.

Do you know anyone who's ever been busted for shoplifting? You know how it goes, someone sees something they really want and they try to slip it into their pocket or their pants or into a bag and exit the store without paying for it. No, it's not the right thing to do, but in the grand scheme of crime, it's fairly harmless. In this example we're talking about a straightforward misdemeanor crime. Our hypothetical thief isn't packing any weapons and isn't using any force to retain the stolen merchandise, and whatever he stole was less than $650 in value. So let's dive into this topic in a little bit more detail. 

Bob Wino - paid too much attention to Swiper in those old Dora the Explorer cartoons 

The actual legal term for the crime of shoplifting is Petit Larceny although most people think it's "Petty" Larceny. 

"You don't have to live like a refugee..."

Nevada law defines Petit Larceny as someone who: "Did steal, take, or carry away, without permission from (name of business or person), (the items taken) with intent to deprive the owner permanently thereof."

This is fairly easy to prove in our hypothetical situation. Bob Wino doesn't have any money, but really wants his mid-morning buzz so he goes into the store, selects a bottle of hooch and conceals it in his coat. After checking to make sure he hasn't been seen, he heads toward the door and exits the store without making any attempt to pay for the concealed merchandise. This is all the intent a responding police officer needs to issue a citation or make the arrest for the misdemeanor crime of Petit Larceny. 

However, it can get a little tricky. At first glance, it seems like, if caught, Bob Wino stands to get off pretty easy, right? Probably just a citation for a misdemeanor, a court date, a suspended sentence, some community service, $10 in restitution to the business, stay out of trouble for 6 months and he's good, right? Not so fast.

Let's look at Nevada's legal definition of Burglary. 
Burglary: Any person who, either by day or night, enters any structure with the intent to commit grand or petit larceny, assault, battery, any felony, or obtaining money or property under false pretenses is guilty of burglary.

Wait..... What??!!

What this means to you is that if the police can prove that you entered a building with the intent to commit a crime 
-- even a minor one -- 
you can be arrested for FELONY Burglary!

Lets look at our hypothetical miscreant Bob Wino again. It's the same scenario as before. Bob goes in, takes the wine, tucks it in a pocket, walks out of the store without paying. Except this time Bob gets caught by the cops. They stop Bob, detain him, the store clerk comes out and positively identifies Bob as the suspect, and Bob still has the wine in his coat pocket. Bob is screwed. But Bob's only committed a small crime, right? Just a misdemeanor, right? Well......  As the police question Bob they realize that he's been arrested for this type of thing before, and as the police relieve Bob of his pilfered wine and search him for weapons they realize that Bob doesn't seem to have any money on him. He also has no credit or debit cards and no checks. Bob has no way to legitimately purchase anything! 

To a police officer, this means that Bob had no legitimate reason to be going into a retail store in the first place. What valid reason could Bob possibly have had? The cop is now wondering if Bob walked into that store with the intent to steal the wine. It's an easy felony arrest which will look great on the cop's monthly stat sheet! 

The bullet points the cop will use in his declaration of arrest to imprison poor Bob for 1-6 years will be something like:
  • Bob has priors for similar crimes.
  • Bob has no form of payment to legitimately purchase anything.
  • Bob entered a retail store and selected merchandise he couldn't possibly have paid for.
  • Bob secreted the merchandise on his person
  • Bob exited the business without attempting to pay for the merchandise. 
  • Because of these facts, I believe Bob entered the business with the intent to commit Petit Larceny, ergo Bob committed Burglary. 
And that is how the simple crime of shoplifting can put you in Nevada State Prison for a few years. 

The moral of the story is: If you've been accused of a crime, even something relatively minor, you always need to have legal representation. Things can spin out of control very quickly. 

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