July 2011 Archives

July 14, 2011

Maryland Prosecution for Felony Theft Requires Testimony as to Value

laptop_computer.jpgThe Maryland Court of Special Appeals held last week that a conviction for felony theft over $500 for the theft of a computer could not be upheld, because the testimony regarding the value of the computer stolen was not sufficient to prove the value of the computer at the time of the theft. The case, Champagne v. State, was a reminder of the necessity that criminal defendants force the State to prove all aspects of their case beyond a reasonable doubt, without reliance on supposition or guesswork by the jury.

In order to present the strongest defense available, individuals facing criminal charges should seek representation by experienced Maryland criminal defense attorneys. At Brassel, Alexander & Rice, our criminal defense attorneys are highly experienced, and always seek to obtain the best possible results for our clients.

In Champagne v. State, the defendant was charged with theft of property worth $500 or more based on an allegation that Champagne had stolen a computer. (The Maryland felony theft statute now applies to thefts of over $1,000, due to a change in the law). The prosecution presented testimony by the owner of the computer that he purchased the computer three years before for either $1,600 or $1,800. There was no other evidence as to the value of the computer at the time of the theft.

Although Champagne was convicted of theft over $500 at trial, the Court of Special Appeals reversed the conviction, holding that the testimony concerning the purchase price, while relevant, was insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the computer was worth more than $500 at the time of the theft. The Court noted that with some thefts, such as the theft of a one-year-old car, it may be possible to meet the felony standard without specific evidence of the value at the time of the theft, but with an item such as a computer, especially considering the rapid change in technology, such an assumption was impermissible.

While it might not seem significant, the distinction between whether the value of the property was more or less than $500 was the determining factor as to whether Champagne was convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor, and in all likelihood made all the difference as to whether he would face additional time in prison. An experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney is vital to protect the rights of individuals charged with criminal acts. The rules governing evidence are complex, and an attorney with the knowledge and experience to use these rules to fight for the client can make the difference between conviction and acquittal.