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State v. Chapman Dodge Ctr., Inc. - 428 So. 2d 413 (La. 1983)

Rule:

A person commits the crime of unauthorized use of a movable when he either takes or uses another's property without the owner's consent or by means of fraudulent practices. La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 14:68, although not requiring that a person act with an intent to deprive the owner permanently of his property, must reasonably be construed to require the existence of fraudulent intent. 

Facts:

After defendant Chapman Dodge Center, Inc. ("Chapman") closed its business, it neither registered the cars sold prior to the close of business, nor paid the sales taxes due. Numerous customers complained that they never received automobile registrations from the State. Chapman and its owner, defendant John Swindle, were charged by bill of information with 20 counts of theft. After a jury trial in Louisiana state court, a jury found them guilty of the lesser included offense of unauthorized use of a movable. The trial court sentenced Chapman to pay $100 on each of the 20 counts and actual court costs; in addition to the $100 fines and court costs, Swindle was sentenced to serve six months in parish prison on each of the 20 counts, the sentences to run consecutively. The sentences were suspended, however, and Swindle was placed on two years' supervised probation with special conditions. Defendant appealed, arguing that that the evidence was insufficient to support the convictions.

Issue:

Was there sufficient evidence to support defendants' convictions?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The state supreme court reversed defendants' convictions and ordered them discharged. The court ruled that the state had failed to prove any intent on the part of Swindle, fraudulent or otherwise. Although the actual owner of Chapman, Swindle had very little control over its day to day operations. The testimony of one witness indicated that he and a third party were responsible for the daily operation of Chapman. Further, another witness stated that Swindle had instructed the witness to pay the taxes, which certainly negated any fraudulent intent on the part of Swindle. As to Chapman, the court ruled that criminal intent was not adequately established. There was insufficient intent shown in the trial court to withstand a Jackson v. Virginia analysis, and therefore Chapman, a corporate defendant, could not be found criminally responsible. Since the record revealed no evidence of complicity by the officers or the board of directors, explicit or tacit, the actions of those individuals were insufficient to cause Chapman to be guilty of the offense of an unauthorized use of a movable.

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