Citation. 99 Cal. App. 3d Supp. 1, 160 Cal. Rptr. 692, 1979 Cal. App. 237.
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Brief Fact Summary.
The Defendant was convicted of petty theft for taking lumber he believed to belong to him. The Defendant appealed the conviction on the ground that the jury was improperly instructed.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
If a person has a good faith belief that he has a right to certain property, he is not guilty of larceny, even if the belief is unreasonable.
The Defendant was charged with stealing four wooden beams from a construction site. At trial, the Defendant requested jury instructions stating that if the Defendant believed the beams to be abandoned or that he had permission to take them, he must be acquitted, even if such belief was unreasonable. The trial court rejected the instructions and gave its own instructions stating that the good faith belief must be reasonable.
Is a good faith, but unreasonable, belief that one has a right to property a defense to larceny?
In order to be convicted of larceny, the Defendant must take another’s property with the intent to permanently deprive him of the property. Where one sincerely believes that he has a right to property, he cannot possibly intend to steal the property.
Therefore, so long as the belief is in good faith, the reasonableness of the belief does not matter since one cannot negligently steal property. Even though the Defendant’s belief of entitlement to the lumber may have been unreasonable, he cannot be guilty of larceny.
Good faith mistake of fact-regardless of whether reasonable or unreasonable-is a defense to specific intent crimes.