Attorney Daniel Hilf’s Interpretation of the Larceny from Person Statute Prevails at the Michigan Supreme Court

On July 30. 2013 the Michigan Supreme Court decided the case of the People of the State of Michigan v. Chandra Valencia Smith Anthony (docket number 145371).  The Michigan Supreme Court held that “Michigan law requires a taking from the person or immediate presence of a victim to satisfy the from-the-person element for the crime of larceny from the person. This standard is satisfied when the defendant takes property that is in the physical possession of a victim or property that is in immediate proximity to a victim when the taking occurs. Only in the rare larceny-from-the-person case in which the constructive-presence exception applies may a taking outside of a victim’s immediate presence satisfy the from- the-person element. The 2004 amendments to Michigan’s robbery statute did not change these established requirements.

In this case, there was no evidence that defendant took property that was in the physical possession of or immediate proximity to the loss-prevention officer, and there was no evidence that defendant used force or threats to distance the loss-prevention officer from the property at the time of the taking. As a result, there was insufficient evidence that defendant took property “from the person” of the loss-prevention officer. The Court of Appeals properly reversed defendant’s conviction, so we affirm the judgment of Court of Appeals”.

Attorney Daniel Hilf of Hilf & Hilf, PLC represented Chandra Valencia Smith Anthony during the original trial of this matter and Attorney John D. Roach served as her appellate counsel.  The trial was conducted before the Honorable Michael Warren of the 6th Circuit Court in Oakland County (case number 2010-232465-FH).

The basic facts of the case were that the Defendant shoplifted perfume at Hudsons in Northland Mall.  When the  plain clothed loss prevention officer tried to apprehend her, there was a brief struggle in the mall area.  The loss prevention officer sustained scratches and a bite mark to her forearm which she alleged was intentionally done by Ms. Smith Anthony.  Defense counsel argued the injury was from the aggressive manner in which Ms. Smith Anthony was detained from behind by the loss prevention officer.  Attorney Daniel Hilf was also able to highlight that the forceful manner the plain clothed loss prevention officer conducted herself was the cause of any physical confrontation she had with Ms. Smith Anthony – that the loss prevention officer was the one who escalated the situation from Retail Fraud.

Ms. Smith Anthony was originally charged with the offenses of Unarmed Robbery (a 15 year maximum felony), Retail Fraud 2nd Degree (1 year maximum misdemeanor), and Possession of Marijuana.  Strategically, at the beginning of the trial, Prosecution moved to dismiss the Retail Fraud charge because it was fearful that the jury might compromise its position with the misdemeanor Retail Fraud charge.  Daniel Hilf objected to the amendment of the charges because he felt that the jury may convict on the more serious charge because it had no other option to consider.

At the conclusion of the trial the Prosecution asked for a lessor offense of Larceny from the Person (a 5 year maximum felony) to be considered in the jury’s deliberations, recognizing the weaknesses in the case raised by the Defense during the course of the trial.  The Defense moved the Court at the end of the trial to dismiss the Unarmed Robbery because the only justifiable conviction was for Retail Fraud.  Under the law at the time of the trial, Judge Warren was forced to give that instruction because it was viewed as a necessary (cognate) lessor offense.

During closing arguments Attorney Daniel Hilf argued that neither Unarmed Robbery nor Larceny from the Person were appropriate. The Larceny from the Person in particular was not justified because the taking never occurred from the person or the presence of the loss prevention officer.  Daniel Hilf conceded that the only crime that occurred was Retail Fraud.

Attorney Daniel Hilf’s earlier concerns of a jury compromise were validated.  The jury could not excuse the obvious theft that occurred and convicted Ms. Smith Anthony of the Larceny from the Person because it did not have the option of considering Retail Fraud.  Ms. Smith Anthony’s Larceny from the Person conviction was immediately appealed to the Michigan Court of Appeals.

The Michigan Court of Appeals in a 2 to 1 decision found for the defense for the reasons argued by Attorney Daniel Hilf at trial. The Oakland County Prosecutor’s office appealed that decision to the Michigan Supreme Court which affirmed the Michigan Court of Appeals.