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Farrelly PC Blog & Case Results

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Farrelly PC Client Acquitted of Unlawful Entry and Second Degree Theft

By: Sean Farrelly 

On October 1, 2014, a District of Columbia judge found a Farrelly PC client not guilty of Second Degree Theft and Unlawful Entry.  The verdict followed a bench trial in the District of Columbia Superior Court presided over by the Honorable Yvonne Williams.

Prior to the commencement of trial, counsel for the United States Attorney’s Office disclosed a 911 call made by a witness to the alleged theft.  Due to the late disclosure of the evidence, counsel for the accused, Sean Farrelly, was able to keep the 911 call out of the government’s case in chief. 

During the trial, the government’s case hinged on the so-called “confessions” of the Farrelly PC client and his co-defendant.  Both defendants admitted to the police that they had been at the sight of a burnt down dwelling without permission and had taken some scrap metal from the pile of rubble that did not belong to them.  Despite these “confessions,” both defendants took the stand on their own behalf and testified that although they did not have permission to be on the property or to take the scrap metal, they both believed the home and property to be abandoned.  The defendants further testified that there was no reason for them to believe they should not have been on the property.  The testimony of the defendants would ultimately prove very helpful to the defense case for both counts.

As to the Unlawful Entry count, in the District of Columbia, to be convicted of the offense, not only must the defendant not have lawful authority to be on the property, he must also be acting against the will of the owner or lawful occupant.  In this case, the government failed to call to the stand the owner or lawful occupant of the dwelling.  Without any other indication of what the will of the owner may have been, defense counsel argued, and the court agreed, that the government’s case was insufficient to support a conviction for Unlawful Entry.

As to the second count, Theft in the Second Degree, although it was clear from the evidence that the scrap metal did not belong to the defendants and that they did not have permission from the lawful owner to take the property, ultimately the defendants prevailed on the theft charge after defense counsel successfully asserted the affirmative defense of “claim of right.” 

Under the “claim of right” affirmative defense, which is normally applicable to theft or robbery related offenses, if an individual has an actual and reasonable belief that he has a claim to the property, and that belief is made in good faith, then he cannot be convicted of the underlying offense.  One circumstance in which an individual has a valid claim of right is where there is evidence to indicate that the property is abandoned.  In this case, given that the scrap metal was located at the scene of a burnt down house and the scrap metal appeared to be in deplorable condition, Judge Williams agreed with defense counsel and ruled that the defendants did in fact have a valid claim of right defense and found them both not guilty of Second Degree Theft.

Farrelly PC’s client prevailed in this case due to defense counsel’s familiarity with the law as well as with potentially applicable affirmative defenses.  Often times the best defense strategy to a criminal charge is either pointing out a hole in the government’s case or asserting an affirmative defense.  During this trial, Sean Farrelly employed both strategies to secure a not guilty verdict for his client.

This trial emphasizes the importance of hiring a thorough and experienced Washington, DC criminal defense attorney to represent your interests when you are facing criminal charges.  If you have been arrested or are under investigation for a crime, please contact Farrelly PC.


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