Michigan Court Explains Evidence Needed to Establish Guilt in a Theft Case

Many theft crimes involve an element of intent. In other words, in order for the State to prove the defendant’s guilt, it must show that the defendant willfully took the property of another person or entity. In a recent opinion, a Michigan court explained the evidence needed to prove a defendant committed theft from an Indian gaming establishment, which in the case in question was charged as a misdemeanor crime. If you are charged with a theft crime, it is in your best interest to speak to a knowledgeable Michigan criminal defense attorney regarding your rights.

The Charges Against the Defendant

It is reported that the defendants were charged with theft from an Indian gaming establishment, and aiding and abetting such theft, in violation of federal law. The defendants entered into a stipulation with the prosecution in which they agreed that each element of the alleged offenses had been satisfied except for one. Thus, the prosecution merely had to establish that the defendants stole funds, money, or property that belonged to an Indian gaming establishment. The matter ultimately proceeded to a bench trial, after which the court concluded that the prosecution had proven the defendants’ guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Evidence Needed to Establish Guilt in a Theft Case

Under the applicable law, anyone that takes and carries away or willfully misapplies any property or money that belongs to an establishment licensed or operated by an Indian tribe that is valued at $1,000 or less can be fined or imprisoned. As such, to convict a person of theft from an Indian gaming establishment, the Government must establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant willfully took or misapplied property or money that belonged to an Indian establishment with the intent to steal.

Further, federal law provides that anyone who aids or abets the commission of an offense against the United States must be punished as a principal. To convict a person of aiding in the commission of theft from an Indian gaming establishment, then, the prosecution must show that the underlying crime was committed, and that the defendant intentionally helped to commit the crime.

In the subject case, the basic elements of the crimes were not in dispute; instead, the sole issue for the court to decide was whether the property that was allegedly stolen belonged to the Indian tribe. In order to prove ownership, the Government was required to show that the tribe maintained possession of, control over, or title to the property in question.

In the subject case, the defendants reportedly took free play credits that were given to other patrons of the casino, which they asserted did not belong to the casino. The court disagreed, finding that while the credits were given to players, the casino maintained control over them. As such, the court found the defendants guilty as charged.

Speak to an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer in Michigan

While misdemeanor crimes are not as serious as felonies, they can nonetheless result in significant penalties. If you are charged with a misdemeanor, it is advisable to speak to a lawyer to discuss your potential defenses. Sam Bernstein of ArborYpsi Law is an experienced Michigan criminal defense attorney who can analyze the circumstances surrounding your arrest and develop a strategy to help you to seek the best outcome possible in your case. You can contact him via the form online or by calling (734) 883-9584 to schedule a conference.

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