Recently, in the case of Commonwealth v. F.S., Criminal Defense Attorney Zak T. Goldstein, Esquire, obtained a full acquittal for a client charged with stealing a car. Specifically, F.S. was charged with Theft by Unlawful Taking (F3), Receiving Stolen Property (F3), Conspiracy (F3), and Unauthorized Use of an Automobile (M2). The Commonwealth alleged that shortly before New Year’s Eve, the complainant had met a woman at a restaurant in Philadelphia. They left the restaurant together, and on the way to their next destination, they stopped for gas. When the complainant went inside to pay for the gas, the woman drove off in his car. The complainant promptly reported the vehicle stolen.
Approximately two or three days later, Philadelphia Police Officers found the car in a South Philadelphia neighborhood. The car was pulled over on the side of the road. F.S. and the woman who had taken the car were both in the vehicle. F.S. was in the driver’s seat, and the woman who had stolen the car from the complainant was in the backseat. Police approached the vehicle and asked for an explanation from F.S. and the woman. The woman did not make any statements, but F.S. told the police that he was friends with the woman and that she had asked him to drive. He denied having any knowledge that the car was stolen, and there was also nothing about the car that should have given off any warning signs. It was not a luxury vehicle, the ignition and locks were intact, and there was no other damage which would suggest to a reasonable person that it was stolen. Nonetheless, police arrested F.S. and charged him with participating in the auto theft.
The Philadelphia Municipal Court held a preliminary hearing on the charges a few weeks later. At the preliminary hearing, Attorney Goldstein cross-examined the officer on whether there was anything about the vehicle that should have warned F.S. that he was driving a stolen car. By showing that there was nothing obviously wrong with the car and that F.S. did not run away, act nervous, or say anything incriminating, Attorney Goldstein was able to have the charges related to actually stealing the vehicle (Theft by Unlawful Taking and Receiving Stolen Property) dismissed at the preliminary hearing. The court then scheduled the case for a trial in the Municipal Court.
At the Municipal Court, Attorney Goldstein made similar arguments in defending against the Unauthorized Use of an Automobile (M2) and Conspiracy charges. F.S. was not involved in the actual theft of the vehicle, there was nothing which should have suggested to him that there was a problem with it, and the police did not know anything about the relationship between F.S. and the woman who had stolen the car or whether she had told him that it was stolen. Attorney Goldstein also introduced character evidence on behalf of F.S. – meaning that F.S. has a reputation in the community for being a peaceful, law-abiding citizen, and that reputation alone should be enough to find F.S. not guilty of the charges.
Ultimately, the Municipal Court judge agreed and found F.S. Not Guilty of both the Conspiracy and Unauthorized Use of an Automobile charges. In general, it is often difficult to defend against Unauthorized Use charges because the Unauthorized Use of an Automobile statute appears to contain no mens rea element. Receiving Stolen Property requires the prosecution to prove that the defendant knew or suspected that the car was stolen, but the Unauthorized Use of an Automobile statute suggests that it is illegally simply to operate someone else’s car without permission even if you do not know that you do not have permission. However, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has concluded in an appellate opinion that even though the statute appears to impose strict liability, the Commonwealth must actually show that the defendant was reckless in choosing to operate the car – meaning the defendant actually knew of a substantial risk that he or she did not have permission to operate the car. Armed with this key case law and the character evidence, Attorney Goldstein was able to obtain a full acquittal on all charges.
This case also illustrates the importance of the Matthews factors in defending against theft charges and receiving stolen property charges. Although the police often arrest a suspect whenever he or she is found in possession of stolen property, the mere possession of stolen property is not a crime. Instead, the prosecution must be able to show that the defendant knew or suspected that the property was stolen. In a case called Commonwealth v. Matthews, the appellate courts provided some of the factors that a judge or jury should look at in deciding whether a defendant likely had knowledge that the property was stolen. These factors include: 1) the condition of the property – is there something about it that suggests that it was stolen, 2) the amount of time which has passed since the property was stolen, 3) the defendant’s behavior when confronted – did the defendant act nervous or attempt to flee, or did the defendant provide a reasonable explanation for the possession of the stolen property. This case illustrates that if the prosecution cannot prove that the defendant knew the property was stolen, then the prosecution cannot obtain a conviction.
Other Courtroom Wins
In addition to the full acquittal in Commonwealth v. F.S., our criminal defense attorneys were also able to obtain a number of important victories in the courtroom. First, we have recently successfully litigated motions for the early termination of probation in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. In both cases, the clients were on probation for serious charges such as Robbery and illegal gun possession, and they had been sentenced years ago to significant periods of incarceration followed by lengthy probationary sentences. However, they had not been in trouble in a number of years. Our attorneys were able to file motions to terminate the probation early and convince their back judges that they were no longer in need of supervision by the Philadelphia Probation Department.
Second, we were also able to negotiate the decertification of adult criminal charges for a juvenile client. In this case, the juvenile client was charged in two separate cases with gunpoint robbery and strong-arm robbery as an adult even though he was under the age of 18 at the time of the offenses. He was also on probation with the juvenile court system. By obtaining information about the juvenile client’s background and presenting it to the District Attorney’s office, we were able to convince prosecutors to decertify the adult criminal charges to juvenile court, where the client was sentenced to a residential juvenile treatment facility instead of state prison.
Finally, our attorneys have also obtained entry into the ARD program for multiple clients charged with DUI, including clients who had prior records of misdemeanor convictions.
FACING CRIMINAL CHARGES? WE CAN HELP.
If you are facing criminal charges or under investigation by the police, we can help. We have successfully defended thousands of clients against criminal charges in courts throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We have successfully obtained full acquittals in cases involving charges such as Conspiracy, Aggravated Assault, and Attempted Murder. Our award-winning Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers offer a free criminal defense strategy session to any potential client. Call 267-225-2545 to speak with an experienced and understanding defense attorney today.