In Massachusetts, the type of charges that will be brought for stealing someone else’s property (larceny) depends on the value of what you steal. If the property is worth less than $250, you will be charged with petty theft, but if the property is more than $250, you will be charged with grand theft. Larceny can include shoplifting from a department store or car theft. Generally, it involves theft without force. The punishment for grand theft is up to five years in prison plus fines of up to $25,000.
In Massachusetts, the Commonwealth can prosecute you for personally committing theft, but it can also prosecute you if there is no evidence of direct participation under a joint venture theory. Joint venture is a theory of criminal liability most often applied to drug cases, but it can also come up in a larceny case. The Commonwealth argues that (1) the defendant was present, (2) the defendant helped commit the crime, and (3) the defendant intended the crime to be carried out.
In the recent case of Commonwealth v. Vaillancourt, a Massachusetts court considered the appeal of a defendant convicted of larceny under $250. The Commonwealth had moved forward under two theories: principal liability and joint venture liability. The judge instructed the jury that they could convict the defendant either if she had personally committed larceny or if she had acted as a joint venturer.
The defendant was shopping and sharing a cart with her friend. Her friend was later found with stolen store items. The defendant and friend were wearing matching outfits that the jury could have inferred were worn to confuse store employees. They came into the dressing room together with several items in a cart and also carrying an empty personal bag. They shared a stall and stayed in that stall for 20 minutes before leaving. The bags they were carrying seemed more full than before.
On appeal, the defendant challenged whether the evidence was sufficient to support both theories, among other things. The appellate court found it noteworthy that, even though the defendant wasn’t found with stolen clothing in her possession, she had the opportunity to hide the missing merchandise because her friend notified her that she had been caught.
Alternatively, the court found there was enough evidence to support the joint venture theory. It explained that, even though the defendant wasn’t found with stolen merchandise, this didn’t preclude the conclusion she had the shared knowledge, intent, and ability to assist in larceny. Circumstantial evidence can be used to prove joint venture. A jury could also have inferred that the commingling of goods inside the defendant’s and her friend’s carts, their matched outfits, and the 20 minutes spent in the same stall facilitated their efforts to remove tags and security devices before removing them from the store.
If you are arrested for a theft crime, contact the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy today to discuss your Massachusetts criminal charges. Call us at 617-367-0450 or contact us through this website.
More Blog Posts:
U.S. Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Defendant in Mandatory Minimum Case Alleyne v. U.S., Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published December 19, 2013
Court of Appeals Ruling Affirms Prior Conviction Record Insufficient to Establish Identity, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published December 11, 2013