Defending Against Charges Of Larceny By False Pretenses
Larceny by false pretenses is one of the forms of theft that falls under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 266 Section 30. Put simply, it is the sort of stealing that is achieved by lying and deceit.
Scams, loans taken with no intention of repayment and lies about the value of property for sale are basic examples of larceny by false pretenses, but it applies to any situation where a person makes a misrepresentation of fact with the intention of depriving someone else of money or property.
While old-fashioned confidence tricks may be quintessential examples of larceny by false pretenses, it is more often applied to monetary transactions or contracts gone awry. Frequently in these situations, the complaining witness gives the defendant money or something of value expecting something in return, and when the defendant doesn’t deliver, the complaining witness turns to the police for help recouping their loss. These cases can be devastating for someone who, through no fault of their own, has been unable to satisfy a contract that they entered into with every intention of completing it and now finds themselves facing criminal sanctions.
However, a charge of larceny by false pretenses under these circumstances is often an example of police and prosecutors overreaching and treating behavior as criminal when it is not. The reason is very simple: In order to be properly charged with larceny by false pretenses, a person must lie or deceive with the intent to defraud someone of money or property, and that intent must exist at the time of the lie.
For example, in the Massachusetts Court of Appeals case of Commonwealth v. Moreton, the complaining witness caught a giant tuna off the coast of Cape Cod and sold it to the defendant’s company. The defendant promised him payment in a week and sold the tuna for over $2,000. The defendant did not pay as promised and shortly thereafter declared bankruptcy. The Court of Appeals held that merely failing to make good on a commercial transaction or contract does establish the criminal intent necessary for a larceny conviction.
This reasoning applies to loans that are not repaid, work that is not completed and deals that fall through regardless of the specific details. The prosecution must be able to prove, with direct or circumstantial evidence, that you intended to defraud the complaining witness rather than simply being unable to complete a contract. If they don’t have that evidence, they don’t have a case.
In a real-life example of just this sort of case, one of our attorneys had a client who was charged with larceny after he failed to deliver a used appliance at the agreed-upon time and did not respond to phone calls from the buyer for several days. The case was dismissed early on for lack of probable cause because the prosecution failed to put forth any evidence that her client never intended to deliver the appliance.
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