Category Archives: Theft

WA State Cracks Down on Organized Retail Theft

What is Organized Retail Crime

King5 News reports that the Organized Retail Crime Theft Task Force was recently formed. State Attorney General Bob Ferguson says the Task Force will focus on sophisticated, organized crime rings and work to stop them.

According to the Retail Industry Leaders Association, organized theft cost Washington’s retailers around $2.7 billion last year.

Given the magnitude of losses, State Attorney General Bob Ferguson says it’s vital that multiple agencies and retailers work together because organized retail theft is simply too big for one organization to take on alone.

“No one retail store, no one prosecutor, no one attorney general, no one US Attorney can solve the problem. It’s just way too big. I found in my experience, from working with other task forces and other contexts, that sharing of information helps with enforcement, helps with prevention, raises the profile of the issue, and gets folks in the room to make sure we go after the bad guys, hold them accountable, and the provide the resources we need to help retailers and small businesses who’re dealing with these challenges.” ~State Attorney General Bob Ferguson

Organized crime could look like three men coordinating an early morning break-in, or it could occur on a smaller scale, like at the downtown Seattle Target, where police arrested a man after he stole alcohol 22 times over the course of a few days.

However, one of the biggest concerns of the task force is stolen baby formula, which is then resold on secondary sites like Amazon and becomes a risk for parents.

“That means that parents who unwittingly buy stolen formula on the secondary market may be putting their babies at significant risk if the thieves, for example, fail to store the product at the appropriate temperatures, or if the thieves manipulated the packaging, such as exchanging the expiration date,” Ferguson said.

He said the task force hopes to have an immediate impact statewide.

“We’re all stepping up to address what really is a true crisis in our state (and) … has significant implications for businesses and for the people of our state,” said Ferguson.

In Washington, Organized Retail Theft is a Class C Felony. Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with Theft or any other crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

More Guns Are Being Stolen Out Of Vehicles

332 guns have been stolen from Nashville vehicles in six months | WZTV

According to NBCnews.com, more guns are being stolen out of vehicles in many U.S. cities. New data analysis reveals this alarming trend as shootings rise nationwide, propelled in large part by firearms obtained illegally.

Journalist Melissa Chan reports that from 2019 to 2020, at least 180 cities saw a rise in gun thefts from vehicles. This now makes up the largest source of stolen guns, according to the nonprofit Everytown for Gun Safety. The study analyzed FBI crime data from 2011 to 2020, spanning up to 271 small-to-large cities across 38 states.

The nonprofit, which advocates gun violence prevention, found that in 2020, an estimated 77,000 guns were reported stolen in these 271 cities alone. Of those, more than half were taken out of vehicles — a stark difference from a decade ago, when the majority of gun thefts were from burglaries and less than a quarter were from cars, according to Everytown.

The trend can be seen in states and cities across the country. In South Carolina, gun thefts from motor vehicles climbed to more than 5,100 in 2021, from roughly 4,200 in 2019, according to the statewide data provided by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division. In Hampton, Virginia, the number of motor vehicle larcenies in which a firearm was stolen jumped to 142 incidents in 2021, from 88 in 2019, Police Chief Mark Talbot said. Many of the stolen firearms have turned up at crime scenes.

While it’s too soon to definitively say what’s driving the shift, experts said it’s likely exacerbated by many factors, including a surge in firearm purchases during the pandemic. In 2020, the FBI conducted nearly 40 million firearm background checks, more than any year on record, according to the agency’s data. During that time, experts said, Covid also kept more people at home and made easier targets of unoccupied and less-used cars.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Theft of a Firearm and other Firearm Offenses are debilitating felonies. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Catalytic Converter Theft

What to do if your catalytic converter is stolen - MarketWatch

You’ve seen the news. Apparently, Catalytic Converter Thefts are a growing problem. Thieves have been stealing these devices from cars, trucks, and buses at an alarming rate lately. The precious metals that go into the making a catalytic converter are valuable.

According to the Office of the Insurance Commissioner, the number of catalytic converter thefts increased in Washington by 3,800% between 2019 and 2020. The soaring price of metals is one of the reasons behind the recent spurt in catalytic converter thefts in the country. The stolen car parts fetch a tidy sum on the black market. Recent supply chain disruptions have also led to the current situation.

The department is aware of increased local catalytic converter thefts which are a nuisance and decrease the quality of life in our community. We have dedicated resources to work on this problem and are investigating those responsible. Community members are encouraged to take proactive crime prevention measures to reduce the chance of being victimized.

The process of stealing a catalytic converter is so fast and quiet. Most car owners do not know of the theft until they start their car and hear a loud rattle. Most car owners assume the loud noise is because of a crack in the exhaust and ignore the sound until their next tune-up. These parts are expensive to replace, costing anywhere between $2,000 to $2,500, depending on the model you drive.

Local government is responding in kind. Lawmakers are looking for solutions. Also, the Everett Police initiated Project CATCON ID to promote theft prevention techniques. Here, residents are asked to engrave the last 8 digits of their vehicle identification number (VIN) on the catalytic converter and highlight the number with high temperature paint. If your converter is stolen and reported, if recovered, the police can track it back to the owner.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with Theft or any other crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Consensual Seizures

MTS Says Its Officers Aren't Bound by New State Use-of-Force Law

In State v. Meredith, the WA Court of Appeals held that a bus passenger consents to a warrantless search and seizure consisting of a bus fare enforcement officer requests the passenger provide proof of payment.

BACKGROUND FACTS

The defendant Mr. Meredith was riding the Swift regional transit bus in Everett late one morning. Two officers from the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office boarded to conduct fare enforcement. When conducting fare enforcement, officers would board a bus at a stop and then ask individual passengers for proof of payment while the bus was driving from one stop to the next. A “chase vehicle” would follow the bus to help with identifying and processing anyone ordered off the bus for nonpayment.

Officer Dalton moved to the back of the bus. He began working his way forward and saying “proof of payment or ORCA card” to each passenger in a conversational tone. His partner moved to the front of the bus and worked backward. The bus drove to its next stop while the officers checked for proof of payment.

Officer Dalton requested “proof of payment or ORCA card” from Meredith, who began to check his pants and backpack. Failure to provide proof of payment could result in a notice of infraction or arrest. The bus continued along its route, and Meredith searched for four or five minutes without producing proof of payment. Officer Dalton ordered him to disembark at the next stop, and they left the bus together.

Officer Dalton asked Meredith for his name and identification. Meredith gave a fake name. Officer Dalton radioed dispatch to run the name, and it produced no returns in either Washington or Colorado. Officer Dalton suspected Meredith gave a fake name. Officer Zelaya arrived to help determine Meredith’s identity.

Officer Zelaya used a mobile fingerprint reader to scan Meredith’s fingerprints. He learned Meredith’s real name and that he had two outstanding felony warrants. Meredith was arrested on his warrants and for committing third degree theft of services for nonpayment of fare. He was charged with Making a False Statement to a Public Servant.

Pretrial, Meredith moved to suppress evidence resulting from Officer Dalton’s fare enforcement. The trial court denied the motion. A jury found Meredith guilty of making a false statement. Meredith appealed under arguments that his constitutional rights were violated by the officers when they executed an unauthorized and warrantless seizure.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals said the Washington Constitution  provides, “No person shall be disturbed in his private affairs, or his home invaded, without authority of law.” Furthermore, the WA Constitution protects against unauthorized seizures by government, despite not using the word “seize.”

However, the Court emphasized that Meredith did not allege his privacy was violated. It reasoned that the analysis does not not depend upon the “privacy” of information requested when police merely request proof of payment on public transit. Therefore, a person can be unlawfully seized without a violation of their privacy.

Next, the Court analyzed whether Meredith validly consented to being seized. “We consider whether his consent was voluntary, whether the seizure was limited to the scope of the consent granted, and whether consent was granted by a party with authority to do so,” said the Court. “We determine whether consent was voluntary by considering the totality of the circumstances from the perspective of a reasonable—meaning innocent—person.”

“Here, Meredith freely chose to contract with Swift Transit for transportation. He agreed to pay and provide proof of payment. And as a reasonable rider, he necessarily understood his duty to pay his fare and provide proof of payment when asked. Thus, like the civilian base visitor in Farkas, Meredith was aware of the possible seizure of his person and consented to it.” ~WA Court of Appeals

The Court concluded by saying Meredith voluntarily consented to Officer Dalton’s initial contact. With that the Court affirmed Meredith’s conviction.

Please review my Search & Seizure Legal Guide and contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

As Lumber Prices Increase, Theft May Follow

Deputies arrested a man on June 1 who they say tried to steal 32 pieces of lumber, worth more than $2,300, from a Shoreline lumber yard. (Courtesy of the King County Sheriff’s Office)

Interesting article by reporter of the Seattle Times reports that the increase in lumber prices have more than tripled over the past year. Therefore, it was only a matter of time before thieves took note, said the King County Sheriff’s Office.

Earlier this month, deputies arrested a man trying to get away with more than $2,300 worth of wood from a locked lumber yard, the sheriff’s office said Thursday in a Facebook post.

“We’ve seen this with copper prices a number of years ago,” King County sheriff Sgt. Tim Meyers told KING 5. “We saw this with catalytic converter thefts as those minerals spiked, and our concern is that lumber thefts are going to be the new catalytic converter thefts as thieves try to profit in this spike in cost.”

Catalytic converters, however, don’t usually require a truck to cart away.

According to the article, on June 1, an employee of Dunn Lumber on North 185th Street in Shoreline called dispatchers around 3:30 a.m. The employee was watching a live camera feed of the lumber yard, where a suspect could be seen taking 32 pieces of lumber from the locked space and stacking them up near an entry point where a Dodge Durango sat waiting, police said. The man was arrested and booked into the King County Jail for investigation of commercial burglary.

As lumber prices hit all-time highs, theft seems to be on the rise – and not just in Washington. In early May, a Texas man was arrested for stealing an amount of lumber greater than $500 but less than $20,000. In April, Tennessee’s Department of Agriculture warned landowners to secure their properties as lumber thefts are rising in the state. On May 21, 144 sheets of plywood – valued at over $10,000 – were stolen from a job site in Florida. 

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with Theft or any other crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Prosecuting Poverty?

Seattle considers excusing misdemeanor crimes if they can be linked to poverty

Should we be prosecuting poverty? Great article by of KUOW reports that Seattle lawmakers are considering a law that would excuse suspects from most misdemeanor crimes if they can be linked to poverty or mental illness.

If approved, it would make the Emerald City the nation’s first to have such a measure on the books.

“Good prosecutors don’t take any satisfaction in prosecuting that type of offense.” ~Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes

The Seattle City Council said the proposal, crafted with input from local public defenders, would excuse suspects from minor crimes like theft, trespassing, or assault — but not in cases of domestic violence or DUI, KUOW-TV reported.

“In a situation where you took that sandwich because you were hungry and you were trying to meet your basic need of satisfying your hunger, we as a community will know that we should not punish that,” Anita Khandelwal, King County Director of Public Defense, told KUOW. “That conduct is excused.”

Anita Khandelwal said the “poverty defense” isn’t meant to ignore the needs of businesses and others harmed by these offenses. She said the current system doesn’t provide them redress either, and it does more harm to offenders.

“It’s meeting nobody’s needs. This is not that we don’t care about the business community or about people who have experienced harm. It is that we know that this process – this processing of human beings through the system – is harmful to our clients and again very racially disproportionate, and also not getting business owners what they need either.” ~ Anita Khandelwal, King County Director of Public Defense,

The push comes as crime has spiked in Seattle this year, including during the Capitol Hill Occupied Zone protests in the city, Fox affiliate WSFX-TV reported.

At the same time, the city’s homeless population has risen by 5 percent since last year. However, not everyone in the Northwest city is on board with the proposed law change.

“It sends this powerful signal that as a city government, we don’t really care about this type of criminal behavior in our city,” former city councilman Tim Burgess told KUOW.

Burgess called the proposal “a defense lawyer’s dream.” Briefing documents say the Council would need to define whether the new affirmative defense applies only to someone meeting immediate basic needs, like stealing a sandwich in order to eat, or to items that are stolen for resale “so the defendant can pay rent.” Herbold says her committee will continue its work on the proposal in January.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime like Theft, Possession of  Stolen Motor Vehicle, etc., and the Poverty Defense might apply. Hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

(Online!) Organized Retail Theft: No Such Thing

Theft Prevention (Retail) – Online Pretrial Education

In State v. Lake, the WA Court of Appeals held that Theft by ordering items online from catalogs will not support a conviction for second degree organized retail theft because the takings are not from a “mercantile establishment;” a phrase which only applies to a physical establishment.

BACKGROUND FACTS

In 2017, Ms. Lake was living in a senior living apartment complex. In February 2017, she placed three catalog orders with different companies using the names and accounts of other apartment complex residents. She had the items delivered to her as “gifts.”

One of the residents noticed that someone had placed an order using her credit account. She reported the suspicious order to the front office and made a fraud complaint with the police. After an investigation, the State charged Lake with one count of second degree organized retail theft, three counts of first degree identity theft, and two counts of second degree possession of stolen property.

At the close of the State’s case, Lake moved to dismiss the second degree organized retail theft charge because there was no evidence that she obtained goods form a “mercantile establishment” as required for that charge. The trial court denied the motion.

The jury found Lake not guilty of one count of first degree identity theft but guilty of the lesser degree offense of second degree identity theft. The jury found Lake guilty of the other five charged counts.

Lake appealed her convictions on arguments that her thefts involving online catalog purchases were not from a mercantile establishment.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The WA Court of Appeals concluded that the term “mercantile establishment” was ambiguous, and applied the Rule of Lenity to hold that Lake’s thefts were not from a mercantile establishment.

The Court gave the framework for reaching its decision. It reasoned that if the plain language of the statute is susceptible to more than one reasonable interpretation, the statute is ambiguous.

“We first attempt to resolve the ambiguity and determine the legislature’s intent by considering other indicia of legislative intent, including principles of statutory construction, legislative history, and relevant case law . . . If these indications of legislative intent are insufficient to resolve the ambiguity, under the rule of lenity we must interpret the ambiguous statute in favor of the defendant.”

With that, the Court of Appeals examined the definition of “mercantile establishment.” In order to prove the charge, the State had to prove that Lake committed theft of property with a cumulative value of at least $750 from one or more “mercantile establishments.”

“The question here is whether fraudulently purchasing items online from a catalog constitutes theft from a mercantile establishment, or whether that term is limited to physical retail stores,” said the Court.

The court reviewed former RCW 9A.56.360 which gave a working definition of “mercantile establishments” as it applied to the crime of retail theft with special circumstances:

(1) A person commits retail theft with special circumstances if he or she commits theft of property from a mercantile establishment with one of the following special circumstances: (a) To facilitate the theft, the person leaves the mercantile establishment through a designated emergency exit; (b) The person was, at the time of the theft, in possession of an item, article, implement, or device used, under circumstances evincing an intent to use or employ, or designed to overcome security systems including, but not limited to, lined bags or tag removers.

Here, reasoned the court, former RCW 9A.56.360 shows that the legislature intended to stop thefts from physical retail stores:

“Only a physical store has a ‘designated emergency exit’ and employs security systems that can be overcome by ‘lined bags’ or ‘tag removers.’” ~WA Court of Appeals

Consequently, the Court concluded that the statutory term “mercantile establishment” was ambiguous. And because the term “mercantile establishment” remains ambiguous, the Court applied the rule of lenity and interpreted the ambiguous statute in favor of Ms. Lake.

“Therefore, we hold that the trial court erred in denying Lake’s motion to dismiss because the evidence was insufficient to convict Lake of second degree organized retail theft,” said the Court. With that, the court dismissed the charges.

My opinion? Good decision. The Prosecutor should have sought different charges under these circumstances. Clearly, the organized retail theft statute clearly applies to brick-and-mortar businesses.

As a side-note, the Rule of Lenity is a rarely used criminal defense argument. In most cases, the definitions of terms are discussed in the legislative intent of statutes and/or found in the criminal statutes themselves. This case shows that when the Rule of Lenity is correctly applied, it’s quite powerful.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with Theft. Hiring an experienced and competent criminal defense attorney is the best step toward justice.

Forged Bank Applications

Victim of union forgery files lawsuit

In State v. Smith, the WA Court of Appeals held that a forged bank application is a “written instrument” under Washington’s forgery statute.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Smith’s convictions arose from his involvement in certain transactions with his two half-brothers. The transactions involved creating auto dealer businesses and using invalid social security numbers to obtain loans from credit unions to purchase cars from the auto dealers. The men then would deposit the loan amount into a bank account for one of the auto dealer businesses but would not actually complete the car sale.

Eventually, Mr. Smith was charged and convicted of one count of first degree theft, two counts of forgery, and one count of money laundering. He appealed his convictions.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

  1. Legal Principles

The court held the State gave sufficient evidence of forgery. It reasoned that under the forgery statute, “A person is guilty of forgery if, with intent to injure or defraud: (a) He or she falsely makes, completes, or alters a written instrument or; (b) He or she possesses, utters, offers, disposes of, or puts off as true a written instrument which he or she knows to be forged.” Also, the court reasoned that under the common law, a “written
instrument” is defined as a writing that has legal efficacy. Under this definition, “a writing can support a forgery charge only if the writing would have legal efficacy if genuine.”

       2. Legal Sufficiency of Bank Account Applications

The Court gave the statutory definition of a “written instrument” as (a) Any paper, document, or other instrument containing written or printed matter or its equivalent; or (b) any access device, token, stamp, seal, badge, trademark, or other evidence or symbol of value, right, privilege, or identification.

Under this definition, the Court reasoned that a bank loan application fits the definition of a written instrument:

“In general, bank account applications initiate a contractual relationship between the bank and the depositor that, once accepted by the bank, create rights in and impose obligations on both parties. Depositors give money to the bank in exchange for the bank’s services. The bank services the depositor’s account in exchange for fees and the use of the depositor’s funds.” ~WA Court of Appeals

Also, the Court reasoned that the “Certificate of Authority” portion of the bank application provided that anyone who signed the application certified that he or she was authorized to act with respect to the account and any agreements with Wells Fargo, to make payments from the account, and to give instructions to Wells Fargo regarding the transaction of any business relating to the account.

“Therefore, the bank account applications at issue here provided the foundation of legal liability and had legal efficacy under the forgery statute,” said the Court. “Accordingly, we hold that sufficient evidence supports the conclusion that Smith’s bank account applications had legal efficacy.”

        3. The State Established That Bank Account Applications Were Falsely Completed.

Next, the Court rejected Smith’s arguments that even if the bank account applications had legal efficacy, the State failed to establish that they were falsely completed. It reasoned that a social security number is a form of identification, and Smith’s use of the Indiana child’s social security number misrepresented that someone with that social security number was opening a bank account.

“Smith also did not have the authority to use the social security number of the child in Indiana. Accordingly, we hold that sufficient evidence supports the conclusion that Smith falsely completed the bank account applications.” ~WA Court of Appeals

      4. The Trial Court Lawfully Declined the Defendant’s Proposed Jury Instruction.

The Court of Appeals held that the trial court did not err in declining to give Smith’s legal efficacy jury instruction because the legal efficacy of Smith’s bank account applications was a question of law for the trial court.

Under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, a criminal defendant is entitled to a jury determination of every element of the charged offense. As a result, the trial court must instruct the jury on all elements of the offense.

The Court reasoned that questions of law are for the court, not the jury, to resolve, and that legal efficacy of an instrument involves issues that are uniquely within the province of the court. “This is particularly true for a document like a bank account application,” said the Court. “The jury would have no basis for determining whether a bank account application has legal efficacy.

Such a determination requires a legal analysis that could be performed only by the trial court.” Consequently, the Court of Appeals held that the legal efficacy of Smith’s bank account applications was a question of law for the trial court. “Accordingly, we hold that the trial court did not err in declining to give Smith’s legal efficacy jury instruction.”

With that, the Court of Appeals affirmed Smith’s convictions.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face Forgery charges. Hiring an experienced and effective criminal defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

A Snowmobile Is Not a Motor Vehicle

Image result for snowmobile theft

In State v. Tucker, the WA Court of Appeals held that a snowmobile is not a motor vehicle for purposes of RCW 9A.56.65, which makes it a class B felony to commit theft of a motor vehicle.

BACKGROUND FACTS

In February 2016, Ms. Tucker and her accomplice broke into a cabin near Stampede Pass. The cabin was accessible only by snowmobiles. The pair stole several items of personal property, including a snowmobile.

The State charged Ms. Tucker with residential burglary, second degree theft, theft of motor vehicle, and third degree malicious mischief. A jury found Ms. Tucker guilty of first degree criminal trespass and theft of motor vehicle, but could not reach a verdict on the charge of second degree theft. The trial court declared a mistrial on that count, and it later was dismissed without prejudice.

Defense counsel, relying on State v. Barnes, filed a motion to arrest judgment on the theft of a motor vehicle conviction. The trial court denied the motion on the ground that the snowmobile was licensed and has a motor. Ms. Tucker timely appealed this aspect of her conviction.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

In short, the Court of Appeals reviewed existing caselaw under State v. Barnes and concluded that, similar to the riding lawn mower in the Barnes case, a snowmobile is not a motor vehicle.

“Here, a snowmobile is not a car or other automobile. To paraphrase the Barnes lead opinion, the legislature was responding to increased auto thefts, not increased snowmobile thefts.”

The Court of Appeals rejected the State’s argument that the stolen snowmobile should be classified as a motor vehicle because at the time and place it was stolen, a snowmobile was the only vehicle capable of transporting people or cargo. It reasoned that transporting people or cargo is not the touchstone agreed to by six justices in the Barnes Case.

“The concurring justices never stated that transporting people or cargo was a relevant consideration,” said the Court of Appeals. “Also, the lead and concurring justices also required the vehicle to be a car or other automobile. A snowmobile obviously is not a car or other automobile.”

The Court of Appeals concluded that because a snowmobile is not a car or other automobile, a snowmobile is not a motor vehicle for purposes of the statute. The Court reversed Ms. Tucker’s conviction for theft of motor vehicle and instructed the trial court to dismiss that conviction.

My opinion? Excellent decision. The Court appropriately relied on the Barnes decision and made the right decision.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Was The House a Dwelling?

Image result for breaking and entering abandoned house

In State v. Hall, the WA Court of Appeals upheld a defendant’s criminal conviction for Residential Burglary despite his arguments that the house was not a dwelling.

BACKGROUND FACTS

In October 2014, Mr. Fredson moved his elderly mother Myrtle from her home to live near him because she had been having health problems. Myrtle had lived in the house since 1986, but by 2014 had difficulty managing her affairs.

Myrtle left furniture throughout the house, beds in each bedroom, appliances, clothes, and personal belongings in the home she moved away from. However, nobody lived in the house. After Myrtle went to live with her son Mr. Fredson, she visited the prior house once or twice a week.

Over time, unknown people broke windows and broke down doors in order to get inside
the house. Lloyd eventually boarded up the windows and secured the broken front door to keep people out. He also posted no trespassing and warning signs throughout the property.

On February 2, 2016, Mr. Fredson and Myrtle went to her home to check on it. Mr. Fredson suspected that someone was inside the house and called the sheriff. Officers responded and arrested the Defendant Mr. Hall as he came out of the house. Hall was carrying a backpack that contained items that Mr. Fredson and Myrtle identified as possessions that she had left in the house.

The State charged Mr. Hall with Residential Burglary, Third Degree Theft, and Making or Having Burglary Tools. A jury found him guilty of all three counts.

Mr. Hall appealed his residential burglary conviction. He argues that the evidence was insufficient to prove that the unoccupied house that he burglarized was a “dwelling,” as required to convict for Residential Burglary.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals reasoned that a person commits Residential Burglary “if, with intent to commit a crime against a person or property therein, the person enters or remains unlawfully in a dwelling.” A “dwelling” is legally defined as “any building or structure which is used or ordinarily used by a person for lodging.” Whether a building is a dwelling turns on all relevant factors and is generally a matter for the jury to decide.

Here, however, the Court ruled that the fact that nobody had leaved in a house for 15 months prior to the burglary, that the windows had been boarded up and the broken front door had been secured, and there was no evidence of a plan for someone to resume living in the residence at the time of the burglary, did not prevent the house from being a “dwelling.”

Other factors supported a finding that the house constituted a dwelling included that the house had been used for lodging for almost 30 years, the house had never been used for anything other than lodging, the house was fully furnished with furniture in every room and appliances, and the owner of the house left clothing and personal belongings in the house. Finally, the owner, who was forced to leave because of age-related health problems, continued to regard the house as her abode.

Consequently, the Court of Appeals upheld Mr. Hall’s conviction.

My opinion? These type of cases are tough to defend. People have difficulty justifying the intrusion of any home, regardless of whether anyone lived in the home or not. Years ago, I conducted a jury trial on a Burglary case involving similar facts. My Client was a metal scrapper who wandered upon a long-abandoned house. The house was extremely decrepit, its front door was removed and no furniture was in the house. Although the jury ultimately acquitted Client of Burglary, they nevertheless found him guilty of the lesser crime of Criminal Trespass First Degree, a gross misdemeanor. This was a victory under the circumstances. Did I mention these types of cases are tough to defend?

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.