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Possession of Burglar Tool
by Ron Davis

Thieves are increasingly using bold and relatively new methods to steal from shopping center tenants.

An example of that disturbing trend occurred recently in the City of New York, Richmond County at Staten Island Mall. While at the mall, a woman was detected carrying a shopping bag lined with aluminum foil and tape. Such a bag is useful to thieves wanting to avoid detection by store security devices.

But upon searching her suspicious-looking shopping bag, the authorities were unable to find any stolen goods. Instead, they found only what the woman supposedly was using to carry bought items. At least, that was her explanation.

Nevertheless, she had some additional explaining to do. Why, for example, was she carrying the shopping bag with its aluminum foil? Such articles would normally point to a theft attempt.

The theft suspect subsequently waived her right to be prosecuted by “information” That course of action allowed her to plead guilty to simply possession of burglar tools. By so doing, she could, for example, avoid more serious consequences. That seemed to work for her when a judge allowed her to a conditional discharge.

Despite the seemingly mild sentence, she appealed. She argued that the charges “are facially insufficient to state the offence absent facts sufficient to allege any intent to use the bag” to commit a theft”.

The prevailing law, however, states that a person is guilty of possession of burglar’s tools, if he or she possesses “any tool, instrument or other article adapted, designed or commonly used for committing or facilitating offenses involving…larceny by a physical taking…under circumstances evincing an intent to use or acknowledge that some person intends to use the same in the commission of an offense of such character.”

With that explanation, a Supreme Court added, “As has long been the rule, such things as screwdrivers or lengths of wire are not in and of themselves burglar tools, and no presumption of intent may arise from mere possession of such instruments. However, intent to possess such instruments for an unlawful purpose may be established by circumstantial evidence.”

(The People of the State of New York v. Charlene Thompson Appellate. No. 2013-2024RI CR, January 24, 2017)

Decision: January 2017
Published: January 2017



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