Prosecution of DC Theft Cases

The following is excerpted from an interview with Jason Kalafat, a theft lawyer in DC who answers questions about the prosecution of theft charges in DC.

What does the prosecution need to prove in a theft case?

Jason Kalafat: In any theft case, the prosecutors need to prove that the defendant knowingly or intentionally took control over some property, made unauthorized use or transfer of some property, or obtained property by some kind of trick or a false pretense, and that they did so with the intent to appropriate that property for their own use or the use of someone else and to deprive the true owner of the property of the benefit of that property. In general terms, theft is taking something without permission from someone else without giving just compensation for it. The government is going to have to prove that number one, the defendant is the person who is engaged in this conduct; number two, that the conduct was knowing or intentional – in other words it wasn’t some accident or just an error; number three, that what the defendant did was actually depriving someone else of their property or services; and number four, that that property or service actually had some kind of value.

What kinds of evidence do they use when attempting to prove their case?

Jason Kalafat: A prosecutor will attempt to find any evidence that the defendant actually obtained or attempted to obtain those resources without lawful permission. To do that, the number one thing they will try to do is establish that the defendant actually had possession of the property in question, whether that be actual possession, meaning it was on their person; or constructive possession, meaning it was found in their house, in their car, or next to them on the street. They will try to find evidence through witnesses, video, audio, or any other kind of evidence that will establish that it was, in fact, the defendant who was involved and that what the defendant did deprive someone else of some property or services. They will typically need to establish through witnesses, particularly the complainant, that the defendant did not have permission to do so.

How do you refute that evidence?

Jason Kalafat: As in any case, a good defense attorney will seek to challenge the credibility of any witnesses by showing that they have some bias, that they are mistaken, or that they have fabricated their version of events in order to show that the defendant did not, in fact, intend to take any property or services or that if they did intend to take the property or services, that they didn’t do so without compensating or trying to compensate the true owner.  I would basically try to refute the allegation that this defendant has engaged in some conduct where they intended to take someone else’s property without giving due compensation for it.

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