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A defendant may raise an honest, yet mistaken, belief as an affirmative defense. A defendant's honest belief that the property he took was abandoned constitutes an affirmative defense to larceny. Abandoned property is property to which the owner has relinquished all right, title, claim, and possession, but without vesting it in any other person.
The defendant, who was in the business of collecting and selling scrap metal, was charged with larceny under $250, G. L. c. 266, § 30 (1), in connection with his removal of two lengths of steel pipe from a construction site located on private property in Pittsfield. Defendant was convicted of the charge. The appellate court affirmed the defendant’s conviction. Defendant challenged his conviction, arguing that he lacked the requisite specific intent to steal because he honestly, albeit mistakenly, believed that the property he removed from the site was abandoned.
Under the circumstances, could the defendant’s conviction for larceny be sustained, notwithstanding defendant’s defense of honest belief?
The court vacated the defendant’s conviction, and held that the defendant adequately raised the defense to larceny of an honest belief that the items he took were abandoned. Thus, the court held that it was the Commonwealth's burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant's subjective belief was not honestly held but, instead, was a pretense or sham.