Farrelly Kalafat PC Blog & Case Results

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Farrelly PC Secures DC Court of Appeals Remand of Case Due to Improper Conviction

As reported on the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia’s Criminal Law Blog, on November 13, 2014, the D.C. Court of Appeals remanded a case to the D.C. Superior Court after finding that a Farrelly PC client was improperly convicted of second degree theft.  A full copy of the appellate opinion is available here.

As has been previously discussed on this blog, in the District of Columbia, there is an affirmative defense to second degree theft known as the “claim of right” defense.  If an individual has a “good faith” belief that property is abandoned, they cannot be convicted of the crime of second degree theft.  

In this case, Sean J. Farrelly of Farrelly PC, who both authored the appellate brief and presented oral argument to a three-judge panel at the Court of Appeals, argued that the trial judge misapplied the claim of right defense and, therefore, the Farrelly PC client’s conviction for theft should be reversed.  At trial, the Farrelly PC client testified that he believed a bicycle was abandoned and that is why he took the bike, notwithstanding the fact that he admitted the bike did not belong to him.  

The trial judge found credible the defendant’s testimony that he thought the bike was abandoned.  However, the trial judge also ruled that the defendant’s belief the bike was abandoned was not reasonable, based upon all the relevant facts known to the defendant at the time, most notably that the bike appeared to be in good condition.

On appeal, Mr. Farrelly argued that it was improper for the trial judge to apply a “reasonableness” requirement as it relates to the claim of right defense.  Counsel for the government eventually conceded the issue and agreed with Mr. Farrelly’s position that a reasonableness requirement is inappropriate in this context.

The Court of Appeals remanded (meaning, “sent back”) the case to the trial court in order to allow the trial court to apply the correct claim of right standard.  Assuming the trial court remains consistent with its previous rulings, the court will most likely find the Farrelly PC client not guilty of the offense for which he was originally convicted, second degree theft.

This case is an important example of two things.  First, it is always advisable to hire a DC criminal trial or appellate lawyer who is familiar with all applicable affirmative defenses.  Second, just because you are convicted at trial does not mean that all hope is lost.  There are often many errors made through the course of a trial that leave open a window to challenge the conviction at the appellate court level.  

Mr. Farrelly has extensive experience representing individuals at both the trial and appellate levels.  If you or someone you know is in need of an experienced Washington, DC trial or appellate criminal lawyer, please contact Sean Farrelly of Farrelly PC for a full and free consultation.


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