The Store Thief "Riddle"

I said larceny was committed in the amount of $100. Full stop. I didn’t say it was all in cash. So I don’t know why you would pursue that factual element as if it were relevant to the question of larceny in this case. Do you think that to be convicted of, say, grand larceny in (and here I’m just picking a state at random) West Virginia the $1,000 or more in property stolen actually needs to be cash, otherwise it’s not grand larceny?

Well, sure, that’s what you responded to, but what you said was:

No-one in this thread has made any assertion that a net calculation of loss would, or should, influence criminal charges.

And they have. They still are.

But those answers would not be consistent at all. In your example, the store has an inventory surplus.

net calculation of loss

I still fail to see

a net calculation of loss

being used as a justification to change criminal penalties. Maybe you could cite this calculation, since I appear to have missed it.

Sorry, no, I misunderstood your question.

I can absolutely believe that a judge would allow prosecutors to deliberately charge the wrong offense for the benefit of extra jail time.

Okay, I ask it a different way. We live in Fakeland where the penalty for stealing a gun is a mandatory minimum 10 years in prison. The theft of $500 cash is, like most places, a misdemeanor petit larceny with a maximum of one year in the local jail, with the possibility of a simple fine.

Our thief and the owner live in Fakeland. The thief wants to steal the gun but doesn’t want to do 10 years, and will risk the misdemeanor penalty. So, instead of stealing the gun directly, he gets the idea to steal $500 from the gun store till, and then “purchases” the gun with his stolen loot.

Putting aside your distrust in judges and prosecutors, you do not believe that a legitimate case could be made that the thief stole the gun and not the cash? IOW, a crafty thief can escape the penalties that the people of Fakeland have enacted simply by restructuring his theft in this manner?

I say that this is a very silly proposition, and the law would easily and correctly recognize this scheme as the theft of the gun. Likewise, in our hypo, the thief has stolen the item and not the cash.

You’ve presented a scenario, the outcome of which may well depend upon technical distinctions of law that may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Is Fakeland operating under the common law? I think not completely, as theft of a firearm is presumably not a common law crime distinct from any other act of larceny. So how’s the statute written? What are the elements of the crime laid out in the statute? What was the intent of the legislature in writing the statute? Do we know? Is there any prior jurisprudence in interpreting this statute? Is larceny also defined by statute?

Or just on the matter of larceny–and whether the money was even “stolen” in the first place–has Fakeland ever tackled the question of what happens when someone, say, takes an item off a store rack, and then without leaving the store, makes to return it to the store, claiming to have previously purchased it but lost the receipt, and seeking a refund? Can such a person be said to have committed larceny, or merely to have attempted it if they are intercepted by store security before the refund effort succeeds? Or have they not even attempted larceny?

This makes it needlessly complicated. Pretend Fakeland is Iowa. It follows the common law except as modified by statute. Larceny is defined as the common law defines it. Larceny of a gun is a statutory crime with a mandatory minimum of 10 years.

In any event, under common law principles in our original question, one cannot say that the thief committed larceny of the $70 because he did not have the requisite intent to deprive the owner of it indefinitely. He intended to return it to the till, solely to confuse some people into believing that the $70 was the object of his theft when, as we know from looking at the facts, the object of his theft that he did intend to deprive the owner of indefinitely was the item.

So, interesting bit of legal nerdery here, but that’s debatable, and it’s why I brought up the notion of taking an item off a store shelf and seeking to “return” it as if it had been purchased. In some jurisdictions at least, that is larceny. See People v. Davis.

From the Lexis summary:

That is, his intent to return the $70 on in exchange for an item (like, a sort of “reverse” refund) could be analogously described as an intent to permanently deprive the store of the money itself. He intended to “claim ownership” of the money by exchanging it.