08 May 2005

The Car as Part of a Drug Deal

markm comments about #17 below:
Since the report on the reporting the stolen-car stolen case doesn't mention any eyewitness ID of the alleged perpetrator, I'm wondering if this is a case of a false confession obtained by police tricks and duress. That is, I can't see any actual carjacker being stupid enough to call the police in this case, but I can easily see someone stupid enough to pay a stranger $1700 for a car with no paperwork, and then call the cops when it comes up missing.

And I can see cops pressuring the guy to solve their carjacking case by pleading to a reduced charge rather than facing pretty nearly the full sentence for receiving stolen goods. (I assume the car was worth far more than $1700, because why bother carjacking a beater? And someone who gets that kind of good deal either knows the item was hot, or is at least guilty of being too stupid to live unsupervised.)
Sadly, I don't have a hard time believing the final confession. I've had any number of clients do something similar. He probably realized he was in trouble because his wallet was in the car; maybe he even saw the car getting towed (or was told by a couple buddies). So he came up with his story and went to the police to try and sell it to them. He knew they would be looking for him soon and thought going to them with a claim that he bought the car and it had just been "stolen" would make him look honest.

Grand larceny of a car is a strange beast. In Virginia if you are found in possession shortly after the theft of an item you are presumed to have stolen it (thus doing away with that pesky presumption of innocence). "Shortly after" can mean days if you are talking about a vehicle. What this does is make a number of grand larceny autos into a proxy for drug dealing.

This begins any number of ways. The most obvious is someone actually stealing a car. However, the far more common seems to start with somebody who has legitimate access to the car (the owner, a boyfriend, cousin, daughter, &cetera). However the car is gotten it is "rented" or "sold" to get drugs or pay off drug debt. Of course, no papers pass hands. Subsequently, the owner reports the car as stolen and a couple days later someone who didn't steal the car is in jail charged with grand larceny.

Client sits there and tells you about the deal but doesn't usually admit to the drug involvement. "Deuce" owed him some money and lent him the car for a week. No, Client doesn't know Deuce's real name or where I can find him. In a few cases the client will actually admit to the nature of the transaction but going in front of a jury with the defense "He didn't steal the car. He rented it with 5 rocks of crack cocaine." isn't something I recommend highly to my clients.

On the other hand, a lot of cases in this vein never go to trial. The complaining witnesses tend not to show for trial. This is probably a combination of several factors: the witness is afraid he'll get in trouble in the neighborhood, he doesn't want to turn on his dealer, or he doesn't want it to come out in court that he was engaged in an illegal act. Anyway, most clients charged with this seem to spend dead time in jail until it becomes obvious that the witness isn't going to come to court. Usually that means a month or two until the first date and then another month after the prosecutor gets one continuance to try and get his witness to court.

6 comments:

carpundit said...

markm,

Given A) the cops forced an illegal confession in order to send an innocent to prison; or B) the carjacker is a moron, you choose A?

I simply cannot understand that mentality.

CP

Anonymous said...

how about both? you know, the cops don't always walk on water (stressful job, public pressure, etc) and morons are easy to pressure - especially when you can rationalize it by assuming they are guilty of something....

Mister DA said...

In a case like this, the cops don't really care. Don't give a big rat's --- if you know what I mean. And I've heard this sort of dumb story, especially regarding cars, so often that it's a cliche. When I did auto theft for a while (not a huge volume of cases in my county, but a few) it was almost a standing joke - stolen, re-tagged car, or even better, stolem bulldozer, found in possession of defendant. In almost every case, he bought it from a guy he met in a bar for cash. Sometimes they couldn't even remember the name of the bar - some bar in big county to the south, or was it a bar in bigger county, further south?

markm said...

cp: The guy's no innocent. Back when I was in college and saving money by living in a pretty bad neighborhood, I could have bought TV's, wristwatches, etc., at a really low price. I passed. I don't receive stolen property. And $1700 cash for a car with no papers - that's so obviously hot property. If the guy is telling the truth, he's still going to jail even if he has a videotape of himself buying the car (assuming he is unable to or afraid to turn state's evidence against the thief). With a plea bargain, he can probably cop to the theft and get out of jail sooner than taking the full time for receiving.

As for the cop's side: they like closed cases. They'd love to put the real thief behind bars, but if this pathetic fellow can't or won't finger anyone else, the trail ends there. Maybe he actually was the thief, but either way he is a criminal. So why would the cops want to mess up the deal and make more work for themselves?

But Mr. DA's drug-deal explanation also sounds quite plausible. I'd never have thought of that - my street-smarts are almost 30 years out of date. I suppose it's impractical to send out a couple of squad cars to drag the complaining witness into court?

markm said...

Oops, that was Ken's drug-deal explanation.

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