June 4, 2023


Equality opinion

On the “Claim of Right” Defense in D.C.

U.S. Capitol building

by Jamison Koehler on March 14, 2022
U.S. Capitol building

It is a legitimate protection to a theft charge that you thought in superior faith that you owned the assets in question.  This is the so-termed “claim of right” defense.  It is, nonetheless, unclear if you can assert this suitable on behalf of somebody else.  And a claim of ideal protection will fail if the accused can take much more than the property whose ownership is disputed.  This was the D.C. Courtroom of Appeals’ finding in its current feeling, Steven Wilson v. United States, __ A.3d __ (D.C. 2022). 

Wilson was billed with showing up with two other individuals at the complainant’s condominium and pistol-whipping him with a handgun even though the other two men and women took assets from the condominium.  Ultimately convicted of conspiracy to commit theft, unarmed kidnapping, unarmed very first-degree burglary with the intent to assault and dedicate theft, and other offenses, Wilson argued on charm, amid other factors, that the trial court docket refused to instruct the jury on a assert of proper protection.

The bar for issuing a jury instruction on a concept of the situation that negates guilt is incredibly small:  The defendant should only display that the instruction is supported by some proof, on the other hand weak.  The trial court thus erred when it refused to give the instruction.  At the exact time, the D.C. Court docket of Appeals concluded, this error was “harmless” that is, it did not have an affect on the result in any significant way.

The “claim of right” defense was initial spelled out in D.C. in Richardson v. United States, 403 F.2d 574, 576 (D.C. Cir 1968).  According to that scenario, a defendant simply cannot be responsible of crimes for which a unique intent to steal is an aspect of the offense “unless he had the particular intent to just take the residence of one more.”  Therefore, a defendant is entitled to a assert of proper defense if s/he has a fantastic religion think that s/he is entitled to the home s/he is billed with having.

In this case, Wilson claimed that, due to the fact he only intended to help his friend recover her have residence, he lacked certain intent to steal.  Writes the D.C. Court of Appeals:

This court has not considered whether a defendant can assert a claim of ideal defense on behalf of a third occasion who has licensed the defendant to reclaim property.  However, assuming the viability of these kinds of a assert, it is uncertain in this scenario irrespective of whether this court docket want arrive at that issue simply because a defendant are unable to assert the declare of right protection when he will take property that he did not feel in great religion belonged to him.

Choose Jose Lopez presided at trial. Mr. Wilson was represented at demo by Frances D’Antuono and on enchantment by Cecily Baskir.