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The common-law distinction is that where one gives up possession of a chattel to another who converts it to his own use, the wrongdoer is held to have committed a trespass and the taking is by larceny. However, where one, although induced by fraud or trick, actually intends that title shall pass to the wrongdoer, the crime is that of false pretenses.This distinction has been traditionally applied when evaluating whether a crime was susceptible to indictment for larceny
Defendants operated a scheme in which they induced certain women to purchase goods with worthless checks, promising the women that defendants would cover the checks with proceeds from a numbers scheme. Defendants were charged with and convicted of the crimes of uttering under the false pretenses statute, D.C. Code Ann. § 22-1301 (1973), and also with grand larceny under D.C. Code Ann. § 22-2201 (1973). As to both defendants, the sentences for grand larceny and uttering were to run concurrently. On appeal, the defendants maintained that the trial court should have granted their motions for judgment of acquittal as to grand larceny. According to the defendants, the government’s factual allegations -- while perhaps warranting indictments charging false pretenses -- did not permit indictments for the more severely punishable offense, grand larceny, given the elements of that particular crime.
Under the circumstances, could the defendants be convicted of grand larceny?
The court affirmed the false pretenses convictions but reversed the larceny convictions, holding that the distinction between the two crimes was due to the fact that the retailers voluntarily gave up possession, making it a crime of false pretenses, but not a larceny. The fact that defendants operated through agents did not change the character of the crime. In each case, the retailer gave up title to the goods, possession was not taken from him against his will. The court said that to uphold the grand-larceny convictions in this case would eliminate altogether the fundamental distinction between grand larceny and false pretenses.