Is Intent An Essential Element Of Theft?
Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
State v. Taylor, 401 P.3d 632 (Kan. Ct. App. 2017).
This case addresses the following issue:
Is intent an essential element of theft?
This case explored the issue of whether intent was an essential element of theft. In exploring this issue, the court held that a defendant could not be convicted of any theft unless they acted “with the intent” to permanently deprive the owner. Id. at 643.
In this case, a police officer responded to a car accident in which there was a single overturned car. Id. at 638. Once the officer arrived on the scene, the defendant identified himself as the driver of the overturned car. Id. After running the defendant’s name, the officer learned that the defendant was driving on an expired license and arrested him. Id. Following the arrest, the officer searched the defendant’s car and found a handgun that had been reported stolen. Id. As a result, the defendant was charged with theft—meaning the defendant had obtained or exerted unauthorized control over the handgun with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of possession of the handgun. Id. During trial, the prosecuting attorney asserted that the State (plaintiff) had no burden to show that the defendant knew that the handgun was stolen. In saying this, the prosecuting attorney was essentially saying that they did not have to prove that the defendant intended to steal the firearm in order to convict him of theft. After trial, the defendant was convicted of theft. Id. at 639-40.
On appeal, the defendant’s main argument was that the prosecuting attorney’s statement to the jury that intent was not necessary to find a defendant guilty of theft was a misstatement of law. Id. at 642. In addressing the defendant’s argument, the Court of Appeals of Kansas found that the prosecuting attorney’s statement was a misstatement of law because it lowered the State’s burden to prove the required guilty mental state of the defendant. Id. In explaining why intent was necessary to convict the defendant of theft, the court noted that the required guilty mental state of the defendant, as stated by the Kansas statute, read, “Theft is . . . done with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the possession, use or benefit of the owner’s property or services.” Id. at 642-43. Additionally, the court noted that defendants cannot be convicted of any theft unless they acted “with the intent” to permanently deprive. Id. at 643. Furthermore, the court stated that “intentionally” was the highest required guilty mental state and a person acted “intentionally” or “with intent” when it was such person’s conscious objective or desire to engage in the conduct or cause the result. Id.
With regard to this case, the court concluded that the State was required to prove that the defendant exerted or obtained unauthorized control over the firearm, while having the conscious objective or desire to permanently deprive the owner from the possession, use, or benefit of the firearm. Id.
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