Lawmakers draft criminal statutes very intentionally, and every word in a law should have meaning. Thus, when courts are tasked with determining whether certain conduct falls within the scope of a criminal law, the first place the court looks is to the language contained in the statute itself.
In some cases, reading a statute and coming to a conclusion is not a difficult task. However, other situations present circumstances that the drafters of the law may not have thought of when they wrote the law. The court, then, must decide what the legislature’s intention was, and whether the facts in front of the court fit within the statute.
A good example of this is a recent New York theft case, in which the defendant was charged with grand larceny in the fourth degree. According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was a personal assistant to the alleged victim. As the woman’s personal assistant, the defendant had access to her corporate credit card information and her Uber account information.
Over a four-day period, the defendant allegedly used the woman’s credit card number to make several purchases. He also used the woman’s Uber account on one occasion. Once the woman found out, she confronted the defendant, who denied any involvement. However, police later obtained surveillance footage of the defendant making several purchases.
What made the case tricky, from the prosecution’s perspective, is that there was no evidence that the defendant ever possessed the physical credit card. Thus, the question before the court was whether the defendant could be found guilty of grand larceny in the fourth degree for stealing a credit card number, but not the credit card itself.
The court ultimately held that the defendant’s conviction was supported by sufficient evidence. The relevant statute at issue defines grand larceny as stealing property “that consists of a credit card or debit card.” However, elsewhere in the Penal Law, “credit card” is defined by reference to the General Business Law statutes, which explains the phrase “credit card” refers to “any credit card, credit plate, charge plate, courtesy card, or other identification card or device issued by a person to another person which may be used to obtain a cash advance.” Further, in 2002, the legislature added an expanded definition of “credit card” to include “any number assigned to a credit card.”
The court conducted a detailed review of the General Business Law, determining that, in defining “credit card” as they did, lawmakers were concerned about financial crimes. The court went on to reject the defendant’s remaining arguments, including that other crimes punished this particular conduct. Notably, one of the three judges on the panel dissented, arguing that the defendant’s position was correct.
In cases like this one, the law is hardly cut-and-dry, and the assistance of a dedicated New York criminal defense attorney can make the difference between conviction and acquittal.
Have You Been Charged with a Complex Theft Crime?
If you are facing allegations of theft, reach out to the dedicated New York criminal defense attorneys at the Law Office of Mark A. Siesel. Our lawyers consist of respected defense attorneys known for their deep knowledge of the law and aggressive style of representation. We proudly represent clients facing all types of New York theft crimes, including grand larceny and other felony crimes. To learn more, give us a call to schedule a free consultation. You can reach us at (914) 428-7386, or through our online form.