As both a New York criminal lawyer and as a Manhattan prosecutor, I have faced the issue of determining the legal value of property in a Grand Larceny case that was not readily apparent. While a theft of cash or certain property is easily ascertainable based on market value or the actual value of the currency, some items are not as clear. Fortunately, for prosecutors, criminal attorneys, victims and the accused, New York’s theft statutes set forth a guideline to follow. More specifically, certain written instruments, not including such items as some public and corporate bonds, have a value as calculated as established in New York Penal Law 155.20(2).
Regardless of whether or not a written instrument has actually been issued or delivered, a value has to be placed on those items to determine not only the degree of the Grand Larceny charged in a New York court, but to also come up with a restitution number should “payback” be part of any disposition. Accordingly, NY PL 155.20(2) deciphers the calculations as follows:
NY PL 155.20(2)(a) If the written instrument in question establishes a debt such as a promissory note ore a personal check, the value of that check or promissory note is the value that is due. Ordinarily, according to the statute, this amount is a combination of the face value, ie, the amount drafted or written on the check, less what has been already paid back or satisfied. An interesting question, and one which will be addressed in another blog entry, is if the stolen check is drafted in an amount that exceeds funds available, does the amount drafted still the bar for determining value? Furthermore, if there never were proper funds to back the amount indicated, is the crime a factually impossible crime to commit, and, if so, is it possible to merely attempt that crime as opposed to actually complete it? If the answer is the latter, then the crime, as an attempt, would be a full degree less than the completed offense.
NY PL 155.20(2)(b) The value of a ticket or similar document that gives an individual the right to obtain transportation (flight, bus, train, etc.) or to obtain some form of entertainment (movie, concert, football game, etc.), is fairly straight forward. Whatever the price listed on the ticket is, that is the value for the purpose of a larceny or theft crime in New York. If that value is $1,000 or less, then the crime would be a Petit Larceny (NY PL 155.25). If the value exceeds $1,000, then the theft crime would be a degree of Grand Larceny. A more complex question is how to determine the value when it is not drafted on the ticket. In such circumstances, the price paid for the ticket or an equivalent ticket would be utilized to ascertain value.
NY PL 155.20(2)(c) In more complicated cases involving thefts of written instruments that may impact a legal right or obligation of value, the value of that particular written instrument is established by determining first whether or not the owner of the instruments might reasonably suffer due to the loss of the instrument. If he or she would suffer a loss, the value is the economic loss he or she would reasonably expect as a result of the loss. Clearly, these cases are much more speculative in nature.
It is worth noting that even the brightest of judges, prosecutors and criminal attorneys cannot agree on value. Grand Larceny and the valuation of property is far from easy outside a straight forward Embezzlement scheme. Fortunately, the burden, however, always rests with an assistant district attorney and not the defendant. If the value cannot be specifically established or proven by any party, there is still something for prosecutors to fall back on. In cases where the value is inconclusive, NY PL 155.20(4) allows for a legal finding that the value of the property is less than $250.
For a wealth of practical and easily digestible materials on New York Grand Larceny, please follow the hyperlinks above to the Saland Law website’s Grand Larceny location. Alternatively, the NewYorkCriminalLawyerBlog.Com as well as NewYorkTheftAndLarcenyLawyers.Com are both tremendous resources on usable information pertaining to theft and larceny statutes, crimes and legal decisions.
Founded by two former Manahttan prosecutors, the attorneys at Crotty Salan PC represent the accused throughout the New York City region.