In Commonwealth v. Tremblay, the defendant was accused and convicted of breaking and entering while intending to commit misdemeanor larceny and a fifth offense of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence. He appealed on the basis that the trial judge made a mistake in limiting his cross-examination of a witness about an issue that was key to his defense.
At trial, the defendant argued he’d made a factual mistake about whether he was permitted to go onto the property of his dead uncle’s neighbor, break a lock, and take a model airplane. He tried to present evidence to this effect. However, the trial judge wouldn’t allow the defendant to question the neighbor about the defendant’s father’s challenge to the uncle’s will, which gave the neighbor the contents of the shed, including the model airplane. The defense attorney claimed that if the neighbor admitted that the ownership of the model airplane was disputed by the defendant’s family, it would have given the defendant more credibility on the question of whether he’d made an honest mistake of fact about his right to go onto the property and take the airplane model.
The appellate court explained that the element of intent to steal, which is required to convict someone of larceny, is negated if the defendant can show he had an honest, even if mistaken, belief he was allowed to take the property at issue. The court explained that testimony about the will dispute was relevant, and the judge should have allowed some cross-examination of the neighbor on whether there was a will dispute.