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New York Theft Charges Require Proof Under Stephans v. State

A recent Nevada court case shows how prosecutors will cut corners in an effort to make sure that shaky arrest turns into an even shakier conviction.

In Stephans v. State, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that the prosecutors couldn’t rely on shaky testimony in attempting to convict a man for theft.
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Charges of theft in New York City can range from simple shoplifting at a magazine stand to a more serious burglary or armed robbery. Therefore, the penalties can range from a short-term jail stint to major prison time behind bars.

And as is typically the case, prosecutors tend to charge theft suspects with multiple charges. If police believe a person shows a similar pattern to other unsolved crimes, sometimes they’ll charge one person so they can close out their “cold case” files.

Or if a burglar is arrested, they could be charged with other related crimes, such as trespassing or using burglary tools. This gives prosecutors an advantage when entering plea negotiations with the defendant. The more potential time they face behind bars, the better deal the state may be able to get.

This case comes down to a man who was arrested and charged with stealing several bottles of cologne from a department store. When apprehended, the man faced charges of grand larceny, burglary and conspiracy to commit larceny.

At trial, the evidence the state relied on came from a loss prevention officer — a hired security guard — who was allowed to testify over the objection of defense attorneys. At trial, the officer was allowed to testify as to the actual theft as well as the value of what was stolen.

He testified that he recovered price tags from the stolen merchandise that totaled $477. But no price tags nor duplicates or anyway to confirm these numbers were entered at trial.

As with most states, in Nevada, a $250 value or more must be proven in order to prove grand larceny. Every state has a minimum value that must be proven in order to show what level or type of theft occurred. And for a judge to let a paid staff member of the department store come into court and say he has some price tags that aren’t available to sway a jury into convicting is deplorable.

A defendant has a right to a fair trial and a right to have the state prove the case beyond all reasonable doubt. That means they can’t rely on the word of some person who has no proof. If there are price tags, they should have been made available. Or another person should have been called in to show how much those items were on sale for the day they were stolen. It was a slipshod case that luckily was straightened out on appeal.

Sometimes, an appeal is necessary to correct the mistakes of judges or prosecutors in seemingly simple cases. But, usually, an experienced Great Neck defense attorney can work out these issues in order to avoid a conviction in the first place.

The Law Offices of Ira S. Newman provides criminal defense legal counsel in New York City, Long Island, Great Neck and throughout the area. Call 516-487-7375 or contact us through the website.