Grand Larceny in the State of New York is a serious felony offense that carries with it the possibility of significant state prison time. There are multiple degrees of Grand Larceny, from First Degree to Fourth Degree, which can have vastly different consequences and sentencing ranges. One of the key factors distinguishing the various degrees of Grand Larceny is the value of the property that was allegedly stolen, from more than $1000 for Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree, to more than $1,000,000 for Grand Larceny in the First Degree. On the surface, this may seem like a simple and sensible way to differentiate these charges. However, a significant degree of complexity can be added to the mix in the form of the principle of Aggregation.
The principle of Aggregation is essentially that the prosecutor may add together the proceeds of multiple thefts in order to charge a person with a higher degree of Grand Larceny in certain circumstances. Generally speaking, there must be a significant connection between the thefts in order for the prosecutor to successfully utilize this principle. The proceeds of multiple thefts may only be aggregated if the thefts were from the same owner and if a defendant acted “pursuant to a single, sustained, criminal impulse and in execution of a general fraudulent scheme.” People v Cox, 286 N.Y. 137, 142 (1941).
As anyone can see, this rule of Aggregation leaves a lot of room for interpretation. The Appellate Division recently grappled with one case that lay in the gray area in People v. Miller, 145 A.D.3d 593 (1st Dept. 2016). In Miller, the defendant was convicted after trial of Grand Larceny in the First Degree, and sentenced to nine years in state’s prison. The defendant appealed and argued that the proceeds from the five different thefts should not have been aggregated to get over the $1,000,000 mark, and therefore the defendant could not legally have been guilty of Grand Larceny in the First Degree. The allegations in Miller were that the defendant worked with the bookkeeper for the Brooklyn Public Administrator to generate fake checks payable to other accomplices, which were drawn on the Public Administrator’s account. The Public Administrator is the official charged with holding and administering the estates of deceased Brooklyn residents who died without a will. The allegations were that those other accomplices then kept some of the stolen money for themselves, and kicked back a large portion to the defendant.
The defendant argued both that this money did not all belong to the same “owner,” since it was the money of many different estates, and that it was not a “single sustained scheme.” Under the circumstances, the latter argument was predictably denied by the appellate court. The first issue is much more complicated, and it would seem on the surface to be a winning argument. All this money came from, presumably, many different estates and therefore many different “owners.” This would mean that the stolen funds could not legally be combined to reach the $1,000,000 threshold for Grand Larceny in the First Degree. The New York State Penal Law defines “owner” as “any person who has a right to possession…superior to that of the taker, obtainer or withholder.” Penal Law § 155.00 . This would clearly include the Public Administrator, but the defendant in Miller argued that a different definition of “owner” should apply for the purposes of aggregation, and that the appellate court should look to legislative intent and other factors behind that Penal Law definition.
The appellate court refused to do so, and went with the Penal Law definition of “owner” in upholding the defendant’s conviction of Grand Larceny in the First Degree. This is critical, because it means that a very clear rule has been established that if a person is accused of stealing money or propertyon multiple occasions from a person or entity that is holding that property for other people, such as a bank, those multiple alleged thefts can be combined and the accused can be charged with a much more serious felony that carries with it the potential for much more severe sentencing.
This blog entry is not an attempt to substitute for an examination of your particular case by your own criminal defense lawyer who will determine what is best for your case. Instead, this entry can give you the foundation to better understand Grand Larceny and aggregation. To better understand these crimes, possible defenses, and how you can best protect yourself, consult with your criminal lawyer.