Larceny by False Promises in Massachusetts

In a recent Massachusetts appellate decision, the defendant was convicted of violating MGL c. 266 section 30(1). This section criminalizes larceny by false pretenses involving over $250. To secure a conviction, the Commonwealth is supposed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant made a false statement of fact that he knew or believed was false at the time he said it, that he intended to induce someone else to rely on it, and that someone did rely on it and as a result gave up his or her property. The defendant appealed, arguing that the evidence in his case was not enough to prove that he made a false statement of fact intending to induce reliance.

The defendant was a contractor who had agreed to repair a home in 2014, and in exchange for the homeowners’ agreement to pay 50% of the repair costs, he claimed he’d start the repair work the next day. Although he deposited the homeowners’ payment right away, he didn’t come back to the home for a few weeks. The work he did was poor and not completed.

The homeowners got in touch with him, but he kept putting them off. They saw him working on other homes in the neighborhood during that period. He tried to perform some additional work for an extra $550, claiming that he needed to pay laborers who were in his truck in order to start working. The homeowners found out that he had outstanding warrants in another state and asked for a partial refund. They didn’t talk further, and the work didn’t get done.

The court in this case explained that false pretenses could be made by implication and verbal declaration and could include any acts or symbols used to try to deceive another person as to past events. It further explained that trying to make a representation about the future, or future work, could be construed as a promise, warranty, or covenant but not a false pretense. A failure to meet his obligations was not a misrepresentation, although it could be if it were accompanied by an express or implicit lie about a past fact.

In this case, the prosecutor had argued that the defendant falsely promised he would start working the next day in exchange for a deposit of 50% of the amount of the contract. This proved there was a promise but didn’t prove a false statement about what had happened in the past. The appellate court explained that whether there was an intent to defraud depended on whether the defendant made a false representation with the intent to deprive at the time he made the statement. Deceit couldn’t be inferred by looking at the fact that the defendant ultimately didn’t perform.

Instead, the court had to look at the evidence the prosecution had presented that showed the defendant anticipated he wouldn’t perform what he promised he would perform. In this case, there was no proof presented by the Commonwealth that the defendant couldn’t or wouldn’t perform at the time he entered into the contract to do the repair work. The judgment was reversed.

If you are charged with a theft crime in Massachusetts, contact the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy today to discuss the criminal charges. Call us at 617-367-0450 or contact us through this website.

More Blog Posts:

Assault and Battery Causing Serious Injury in Massachusetts, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published January 14, 2015

Receiving Stolen Property in Massachusetts, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published December 15, 2014

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