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Theft standard loosened in California

Appeals court justices in California have just loosened the legal standard for theft by categorizing some types of petty theft as "temporary taking." The decision, which came after a defendant took a man's cell phone but later returned it. Appellate judges decided that the incident constituted a type of technological joyriding rather than violent theft, even though the defendant seems to have accosted the victim of the property crime. This reclassification can be considered a win for criminal defendants throughout the state, who may be able to receive reduced charges and sentences for their petty property crimes.

Authorities report that the victim in this case was standing outside of his workplace, a hospital, during a short break. At that time, he was sending his fianc?e text messages on his new phone. A stranger approached and forcibly took the phone, allegedly punching the man in the head in order to grab the device. After the victim was able to reclaim the phone, the defendant allegedly told the man that he needed the phone to make an emergency call because his mother's house had been set on fire. He then offered to pay the victim for the phone.

In this case, the defendant was visibly distraught because of several altercations with family members that day. The man believed that his mother's house had burned down because he made a mistake while doing repair work. He had also jumped out of a moving vehicle after getting in an argument with his future mother-in-law. As a result, the man attempted to take the phone from the victim.

In this case, the court said that the defendant would have had to gain permanent possession of the phone for the crime to be considered theft. The man in this case quickly returned the phone without lessening its value or depriving its owner of its use; therefore, the incident constitutes a type of "joyriding" instead of an actual theft. This criminal defendant's sentence was dismissed after the higher court decision.

Source: abcnews.go.com, "Calif. Appeals Court Tosses iPhone Theft Charge as 'Temporary Taking'" Alan Farnham, Oct. 04, 2013

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