AuthorJeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

Page 205

The unauthorized taking and removal of the PERSONAL PROPERTY of another by an individual who intends to permanently deprive the owner of it; a crime against the right of possession.

Larceny generally refers to nonviolent theft. It is a common-law term developed by the royal courts of England in the seventeenth century. In the United States, most jurisdictions have eliminated the crime of LARCENY from statutory codes, in favor of a general theft statute.

The crime of larceny was developed to punish the taking of property in nonviolent face-to-face encounters, and to set it apart from ROBBERY. Robbery involved some measure of violence in connection with theft, and the courts did not feel that a nonviolent theft should warrant the same punishment. Larceny was nevertheless punished severely. A person convicted of larceny could receive the death penalty or be sentenced to many years in prison.

The English courts were careful not to encroach on the lawmaking rights of the British Parliament, so they kept the crime of larceny limited and well-defined. A defendant could be convicted of larceny only if he or she had some physical interaction with the victim; the victim relinquished property that was in the victim's possession at the time of the taking; the defendant was not in lawful possession of the stolen goods at the time of the taking; and the defendant actually carried the property away at the time of the interaction.

Over time the English courts recognized the need to expand the concept of larceny. In the absence of legislative action, they created new offenses based on the manner in which the theft was accomplished. EMBEZZLEMENT was created in the eighteenth century to punish the misappropriation of property after lawful possession. This charge would apply, for example, if a store clerk accepted a customer's money in a legal sale, and then took that money for his or her own use. Embezzlement was punished more severely than larceny because it involved a breach of trust.

Larceny by trick was created to punish the taking of property with the owner's consent when that consent was obtained by FRAUD or deceit. Before the courts created the offense of larceny by trick, defendants who had swindled their victims were able to argue that they had not committed larceny because the victims had willfully given them property.

Shortly after the courts created larceny by trick, they created the crime of obtaining property by...

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