Legal hypothetical regarding force to stop theft

Okay, here’s the hypo. Let’s say that I am a known drug addict with a severe drug problem. My friend who outweighs me by 100 pounds come to my house to talk to me about my problems.

I tell him that he can go pound sand because I like using drugs and, in fact, I’m going to go purchase drugs as soon as he leaves. He sees my wallet sitting on the dining room table. In a sincere effort to protect me, he takes my wallet and starts to leave with it. I grab, punch, and kick him in an effort to get my wallet back. Police are dispatched and I am arrested and charged with battery.

Generally, a person is allowed to use reasonable force to stop immediate theft of property and/or prevent a crime in progress. Although well intentioned, and in an effort to prevent me from committing a crime, the friend is nonetheless depriving me of my property (wallet). Will a defense to battery work in this case on the grounds that I was acting to prevent a theft/affectuate an arrest for theft? Common sense says it should not. Any case law?

Wouldn’t the problem be that you don’t actually have a resonable belief that your friend intends to permanently deprive you of your property (which is, of course, the common law definition of larceny)? Same problem, I assume, if the hyopthetical is your friend taking your car keys when you’re drunk.

I thought about that, but haven’t researched it thoroughly. What if your friend tells you that he will give your wallet back, but only after you have achieved a level of sobriety that he feels appropriate? IOW, a private citizen doesn’t have the power to involuntarily hold your property until he subjectively believes you should have it back.

Suppose a more innocent example. You are 5 pounds overweight. After your friend’s visit, you notice all of the junk food in your cabinets gone. The friend has left a note stating: “Once your fat ass is back in shape, you may retrieve your unhealthy food from my house. If any of the food has spoiled, I will repay you the value of the food.”

No permanent dispossession there, but I can’t believe that no crime (however minor) has been committed.

There’s no question that there’s a potential for there to be a crime (some sort of trespass to chattels, at least). I suppose the wallet or car key seizer could argue some sort of justification (he was attempting to prevent a crime, after all).

So, you take my junk food. I think it’s true that you’ve unlawful interference with my personal property (but not a larceny). But, instead of a note, you open my cabinet, see the junk food, and tell me that you’re taking it until I get into shape. So I rip the bag from your hands and punch you in the face.

I guess the question is can I use force to prevent a trespass to chattels? Probably. So the next question is: is that a reasonable amount of force? (I assume, the minimum necessay to stop you. I know in the trespass to land “self-help” scenario that’s a more restrictive bar than, say, self-defense).

I agree. Further, even if the car keys and wallet taking is justified, supposed I needed those items to unlock my house door (or retrieve an important item from my car) or purchase food respectively. I have an independent lawful justification for needing those items. Next, even if the friend (and I agree that he does) have a lawful justification for taking these items, does that immediately foreclose my right to protect property?
I agree that the force has to be reasonable, but suppose the friend outweighs you by 100 pounds and is walking out the door. I couldn’t say that pulling or punching would be per se unreasonable.

I think the answer to that has to be “yes,” becuase it’s no longer an unlawful interference. It’s a justified interference. I have a vague recollection of 1L year and the case involving the guy who tied his boat to someone else’s dock in a storm and the dock-owner untied it and it sank (those facts may not be entirely right). Dock-owner can’t do that; becuase it’s a justified trespass. I think that’s right? I would think that the ability to use force to prevent a trespass to chattel tracks the ability to use force to prevent trespass to land (obviously, I’m using tort concepts and not criminal law concepts… but I think it’s coherent).

I remember that case. Private necessity so the dock owner was liable for damages to the boat, but I don’t believe he was or could be criminally charged. Also, I’m not sure if the dock owner was aware of the private necessity prior to setting the boat adrift.

I guess I’m still confused. Returning to my original hypothetical, the friend would likely be justified in taking money to prevent me from purchasing drugs. However, in taking my wallet, he has deprived me of my means to purchase anything I may need for support, and I am unsure how long this dispossession will last. I can’t purchase food, prescription medication, go see a doctor if I get sick, drive a car to work (license in wallet), etc.

I understand that it is impossible for the friend to only take a portion of my money to prevent the drug purchase, he has nonetheless taken all of my money that I will use for both lawful and unlawful purposes. Do I not still have the right to use force to protect the funds I will use for a lawful purpose?

IANAL but I think your friend would face criminal charges for theft.

Now his argument would probably be that he was doing the same thing as you were doing. You were using force to prevent a theft and he would claim he was also using force (taking your wallet) to prevent the commission of a crime (you buying drugs).

While what he is saying is factually correct, I think it would depend on what the local laws were to determine if he had a legal defense. Laws generally do allow people to use a certain amount of force to prevent some crimes but I think it’s uncommon to have theft to prevent the non-violent purchase of illegal drugs included on the list.

There was no imminent crime, friend could have just called the police to prevent one. Tough sell to justify his actions, easy for the druggie to justify use of force, he just has to say the friend fought back when he used reasonable means to recover his property or eject a trespasser.

I think the defense should be the common-law defense of necessity.

Humphrey v. Commonwealth, 553 SE 2d 546, (Va Ct App 2001), quoting * United States v. Bailey*, 444 U.S. 394 at 410 (1980).

Then the competing harms becomes a question of fact for the finder of fact.

ETA: re-reading, this defense is available to your friend, not you.

So never mind.

Here’s my theory: You have the right to use reasonable force to prevent an unlawful interference with your personal property. Because your friend reasonably believe that taking the money was necessary to prevent a criminal act, his interefence was justified. Therefore, it was not an unlawful interference. Becuase he told you, you knew this. As a result, you don’t have a reasonable believe that you’re preventing an unlawful interference. So no right to use force.

Now, sure, your money has legitimate uses and your wallet has things other than money. Did friend know that? Before you used force, did you say: take the money, but leave me my license and the condoms? If you just try to use force, then I’d say you haven’t shown it was necessary to prevent the taking. As to the legitimate use of the money, I think that rolls into friend’s justification argument: it sounds like it was necessary to deprive you of the money to prevent the crime (even if you might have used it for noncriminal acts, like going out for a burger and some crack). We know your apartment was short on crack, but was it also short on burgers? I assume thre’s a minimum interference necessary test for friend as well.

I don’t know if this would work. But that’s how I’d structure it.