What can I do if I’ve been charged with felony theft for mistakenly taking tires from what I thought was a garbage pile?

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What can I do if I’ve been charged with felony theft for mistakenly taking tires from what I thought was a garbage pile?

I’ve been working at a chipping yard, monitoring debris removal from a recent ice storm. There were multiple trucking companies involved in the project and all of them are no longer on the project. There has been a large pile of garbage left by the trucking companies and in that pile were some new truck tires I took them thinking they were abandoned. Turns out, they weren’t and now I’m being charged with felony theft (8 truck tires valued at $2400 per the charges). I returned the tires within 6 hours after taking them and after finding out that they weren’t intended to be trash along with the other trash. What can I do to have this felony charge reduced?

Asked on July 3, 2015 under Criminal Law, Tennessee

Answers:

B.H.F., Member, Texas State Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

You really need an attorney to help you with a reduction.  You can go visit with the prosecutor and simply explain this was "mistake of fact" case. (Which is also your defense)  However, you need to know that anything you tell the prosecutor can and most likely will be used against you if this case continues to move forward.  If an attorney is making the argument for you, it is part of settlement negotiations and not an actual statement by you, thus, the comments by your attorney cannot be used against you.

If you cannot afford an attorney, you have the right to have a court appointed attorney.  So utilize this option.

In the mean time, you can start working on some details regarding your case to make the attorney's job easier on your behalf.  As mentioned, this is a "mistake of fact" case.... so see what evidence you can gather that this was a mistake any reasonable person would have made.  Take picture of the trash pile where they were left.  If the rest of the pile was trash-- it would stand to reason anything on that pile was trash.  Take pictures of any signs around the trash pile-- if there were no signs indicating that anything on the property belonged to anyone else-- then you can argue it was effectively abandoned.  Since this was a project, see what statements anyone else could or would make about the nature of the trash piles.  If more than one person thought it was a trash pile... then it would support your theory.  (Caution-- do not make comments about your case to these potential witnesses-- simply explain you are 'following up on a situation')  You also know what the tires looked like-- so do research on the tires.  Part of the reason this is a felony charge is the value of the tires.  If they are using "purchase price" versus "used price", then this charge may be inflated simply by the value of the tires alone.  If you are not comfortable doing this leg work yourself, consider hiring a private investigator to assist you.  It's a bit more pricey than doing it on your own, but it's usually cheaper than being stuck with a felony on your record.


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