Why You Should Fight Your Misdemeanor Larceny Charge

It all comes down to intent.

Larceny in North Carolina is dictated by G.S. 14-72, but the statute does not actually define what larceny is. Prosecutors rely on case law and the common law definition of State v. Owens (2011) defines larceny as “a wrongful taking and carrying away of the personal property of another without his consent with intent to deprive the owner of his property.”

Wake criminal defense lawyers field a multitude of phone calls from people who were charged unfairly because a self-checkout at Walmart or Target failed, or the person accidentally didn’t scan something. The loss prevention officer assumes the person is trying to steal, calls the police, and the person is arrested or cited. The person didn’t intend to steal — it was an innocent mistake, but now their spotless criminal record is sullied by what’s supposed to be a modern convenience.

Although American courts are supposed to run on the doctrine of innocent until proven guilty, the defendant is often left to prove why he simply made a mistake. District attorneys can do this because “I didn’t mean it” is an affirmative defense. An affirmative defense, in this type of situation, is admitting that something didn’t get scanned, but there is a completely innocuous reason for it. In theory, the prosecutor should have to prove that the defendant had intent to steal, but it rarely works that way.

Proving lack of intent to steal is scary and risky for a defendant, especially if he’s never been charged before. Usually the defendant can do community service to have the charge dismissed, but part of that agreement is admitting guilt. Why should a defendant admit guilt when he isn’t guilty? Defense attorneys, ethically, are not supposed to let their clients admit guilt when the attorney know the client isn’t guilty. However, sometimes it’s easier for the client to just do the community service and be done with everything — it takes less time and it doesn’t involve the risk of trial. That doesn’t mean it’s okay.

Once a month in Wake County District Court we have what is jokingly known as “Wal Mart Wednesday.” Wal Mart Wednesday is when all of the loss prevention officers from area Wal Marts gather in one of the second floor courtrooms to talk to the assistant district attorney and defense lawyers about why they called the police on someone they perceived as stealing. The courtroom is often full and chaotic, and the stack of files set for bench trial is high.

Many people, unable to attend court once a month for many months in a row, will just agree to do community service or plea guilty to misdemeanor larceny, second-degree trespass, or concealment of goods (shoplifting) to get it over with. Others want to fight, and rightfully so.

Those who want to fight generally did not intend to steal. It’s a valid defense, although it’s not always a winning one. If there’s no videotape (and there should be), it’s the defendant’s word against the lost prevention officer’s. If the defendant loses at trial, he has the right to appeal to Superior Court. There, he will have the chance to present the case to a jury. Obviously, this is very time consuming and expensive, and there’s really no guaranteed way to recover defense legal fees if he hires his own lawyer.

In fairness to loss prevention officers, some people do steal from Wal Mart, Target, Belk, Kohl’s, etc. Raleigh larceny lawyers are happy to represent both.

Obviously this is scary to anyone who uses self-checkouts at retail stores. Stop using self-checkouts at WalMart and Target. If you have been charged with larceny, changing a price tag, or deactivating a theft deterrent tag, contact attorney William Pruden at 919-880-2124 for a free consultation on your charges.

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