Theft of property in the fourth degree means that someone has stolen property with a value of $500 or less and that that property was not taken from "the person of another."
The punishment for this crime can be up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $6000.
Reading the law alone doesn't give you all of the nuances that can occur in these kinds of cases. Nevertheless, before we begin our discussion of this area of the law, let's review the actual law.
Here it is:
Theft of property in the fourth degree.
(a) The theft of property which does not exceed five hundred dollars ($500) in value and which is not taken from the person of another constitutes theft of property in the fourth degree.
(b) Theft of property in the fourth degree is a Class A misdemeanor.
So, what do you need to know if you're charged one of these cases in Alabama particularly in Madison County or in the city of Huntsville?
As explained in the video above and here, I like to teach by giving examples. As these examples show, things don't always play out the way people expect them to.
Let's say we have three brothers, Mo, Joe, and Bo. All three brothers get arrested at different times for different cases of theft in the fourth degree. All of them go to trial in the Municipal Court.
We're going to play "you be the judge."
See if you can figure out which of these brothers would be found guilty or not guilty.
Case Number One
In the first case, Mo goes to the Corner Quick Stop. Mo picks up a pack of cigarettes with intending to steal them. He starts to slide them in his pocket but gets to feeling guilty. Mo thinks the better of it and puts the cigarettes back on the shelf.
As soon as Mo leaves the store, he's busted by officer McGruff. After being properly advised of his rights, Moe tells officer McGruff that he picked up the cigarettes intending to steal them, but he thought the better of it and put them back.
Under Alabama law, is Mo guilty?
Under Alabama law, as soon as somebody moves an object with the intent to steal it the crime is complete. This means that whether we like it or not, Moe could legally be found guilty of the theft. This is the case under Alabama law. In other jurisdictions Mo's abandonment of the crime could be raised as a defense but, un Alabama law the judge could find him guilty.
Case Number Two
In this e, Moe's brother Joe decides he wants a bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey.
Joe goes to the liquor store where he sees a display of Jack Daniels whiskey, but there are no prices on the bottles
Next to the Jack Daniels display is another brand of whiskey on sale. It's” Kicking Chicken" brand whiskey. The price of " Kicking Chicken " whiskey is $12.00 a bottle.
Joe peels the label off a bottle of " Kicking Chicken " whiskey and sticks it on a bottle of Jack Daniels. At the register, Joe pays $12.00 for this bottle.
As soon a Joe leaves the store, he's busted by Officer McGruff who properly advises Joe of his right to remain silent, and then Joe tells McGruff: " I wasn't trying to steal. I figured they must be the same price after all whiskey is whiskey. It was just a mistake"
The case goes to trial. Is Joe guilty?
The judge would probably find Joe guilty. I say "probably" because the judge's decision would depend on whether or not he believed Joe's story. My hunch is the judge wouldn't believe Joe because saying that all whiskey is like saying "all cars are cars." In other words, it's like saying a Ford Fiesta is the same as a Lamborghini. The judge is probably not to believe Joe's claim a Joe could be convicted. Of course, before anyone is found guilty of a crime, the proof must be beyond a reasonable doubt. If the judge believed that Joe was not actually trying to steal the property, he would be found not guilty. It's not unusual to see people switch tags to accomplish a shoplifting case. Because they're paying less than the value of the property, if there is sufficient evidence that they've done this knowingly, they would be properly convicted under Alabama law.
Case Number Three
In this case, brother Bo along with his girlfriend Flo go to Walmart. Flo wants baby clothes for her baby, "Bitty Bo".
Flo picks out a nice outfit and stuffs it down her shirt. Bo and sees this. He looks around the store to see if there are any loss prevention folks coming their way. There are. Flo runs out of the store and escapes. But Bo is arrested and charged with the theft of the baby clothes.
Is Bo guilty?
Whether or not Bo is guilty depends on whether he was acting as a lookout for Flo or if he was simply on onlooker to Flos' crime. Bo should be found not guilty... unless there was some strong evidence to establish that he was participating in the crime.
Case Number Four
After Flo escapes Walmart she goes to Kmart to try to steal a hat for herself. At Kmart, she grabs the hat and attempts to run out of the store. Loss prevention officer JaMarcus Jones sees her and stops her. Flo punches JaMarcus in the eye to escape and she runs out of the store with the hat. Outside the store, she is apprehended by officer McGruff.
Is Flo going to be charged with theft? While Flo has committed the crime of theft, she also used force against loss prevention office JaMarcus Jones in order to escape with the property and, because she used force to escape with the property, she will face the more serious charge of robbery.
Case Number Five
Flo has a cousin named Zo. After attending the trial for Flo, Zo steps out in the hallway of the courtroom during a break. Because she is hungry, she snatches the candy bar out of the hands of little tiny Tim. What crime has she committed? Because she took the property from "the person of another" this crime is also robbery, not theft.
As you can see the outcome of the theft case depends upon the facts of the case and how the evidence is presented in court. If you or someone you love is charged with theft it's important that they have the best legal representation possible. A conviction for theft, even misdemeanor theft, can have devastating lifelong consequences. Not only does a conviction subject someone to a potential jail sentence it also affects them in other ways such as one's ability to obtain or maintain employment and even in other areas such as one's ability to obtain a loan for once credibility should they be involved in a lawsuit.
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