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Grand and Petty Theft, Plus the Dingbat Defense

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We don't generally do celebrity gossip stories here, but once in a while the tabloids actually touch on a genuine criminal law policy question.

TMZ reports that the necklace that Lindsay Lohan allegedly pilfered is not worth the $2500 the store claims.  "The jewelers we spoke with said the fair market value ranged between $800 and $1,000."  Imagine that, a tinsel-town jeweler overpricing the tinsel.  Who would have guessed?

Now, that value would easily be grand theft in most states, and it would have been in California until fairly recently.  You see, the $400 threshold for grand theft had not been adjusted for inflation in many years.  The legislature did raise it in 2009, though, as part of a bill to try to cut down the number of people in state prison.  Petty theft is a misdemeanor punishable by, at most, a year in county jail.  Grand theft is what we call a "wobbler" in California.  It can be punished with state prison time, in which case it is a felony conviction, but the judge has discretion to impose a lesser penalty and make it a misdemeanor.

Failure to adjust the grand theft threshold for inflation is an old problem.  [Audience: How old is it?]  This problem is so old that Sir William Blackstone complained about it in 1767.
California's new threshold is $950, Cal. Penal Code §487(a), inside the range in which appraisers differ in this case.  Good thing she didn't steal artichokes.  See §487(b)(1).

Her lawyer says she didn't steal anything.  It's the Edith Bunker defense.

In an episode of All in the Family, Edith is accused of shoplifting when she absent-mindedly walks out of a store with a wig she was trying on.  Archie says, "The only thing anybody can accuse you of is bein' a dingbat, which as fer as I know ain't no crime," or something like that.

In his own crude way, Archie correctly grasped the mens rea (guilty mind) requirement of larceny.  Theft requires an intent to permanently deprive another of his property.  Being a dingbat doesn't do it.

Cristina Everett and Lauren Johnston have this story in the New York Daily News on Ms. Lohan's dingbat defense.  In an earlier incident, she started to walk out with one of the store's earrings while leaving her own more expensive pair on the counter.

1 Comment

What would we do without Lindsay Lohan? I wrote briefly about this story last week, http://www.crimeandconsequences.com/crimblog/2011/02/the-hollywood-gift-that-keeps-.html, and I'm glad to see that it does, indeed, keep on giving.

Now of course it might be the case that Ms. Lohan just forgot about the necklace. Stranger things have happened.

On the other hand, I have lived almost three times as long as Ms. Lohan and have managed never to walk out of a store wearing merchandise I didn't pay for.

The main thing about this lady is that she just doesn't care one whit for the rules. In that sense, it's actually easy to believe this necklace thing went right past her. I mean, really, why bother?

On the other hand -- and this is the point our compassion-uber-alles friends might want to consider -- it's also a reason explaining why her four zillion trips to rehab haven't done any good. As ever, it's less about society's giving you the "opportunity" to change how you live than it is about your WANTING to change how you live.

With rare exceptions, when you want to change, you can. If you don't, a thousand "opportunities" won't make any difference.

She doesn't, so whether it's this case or the next one, Ms. Lohan is as sure a bet for a return trip to the police blotter as you'll ever see.

I just hope she doesn't do any serious damage before she gets it, if she ever does.

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