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Hufstetler v. State

    Brief Fact Summary. Appellant was convicted of petty larceny. The court considers whether based on the facts, the conviction can be sustained.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A person who obtains property via consent of its owner through trick or fraud is guilty of larceny because the trick or fraud vitiates the transaction and the owner is deemed to retain constructive possession.

    Facts. Appellant, Hufstetler drove his car up to the gasoline tanks located at the complaining witness’s gas service station. There were two or three other men in the car, and a man in the back seat got out and came into the store asking if there was a telephone. When the owner told him there was no phone in the service station, the man said he wanted his gas tank filled. The owner put approximately six gallons of gas in the car and then the man asked for a quart of oil. When the owner went to retrieve the oil, the defendant and the other men drove off without paying for the gasoline. Appellant was subsequently convicted of petty larceny.

    Issue. Can the appellant be guilty of larceny when the owner of the service station voluntarily parted with the possession and ownership of the gasoline?

    Held. Yes. Affirmed and remanded for proper sentence.
    According to the Massachusetts Supreme Court in Commonwealth v. Barry, if possession of property is fraudulently obtained by a person who intends to convert it to his own use, and the person parting with the property intends to part with mere possession and not title, the former is guilty of is larceny.

    An application of the doctrine of aid and abet shows the appellant secured the possession of the gasoline by trick or fraud. Securing the property by the consent of the owner under these conditions does not necessarily prevent the taking from being larceny.

    Here, the owner still retained constructive possession because the trick or fraud vitiated the transaction. One can logically determine that the service station owner did not intend to part with ownership of the property until he received payment for it. The element of intent can be inferred from this factual background.


    Discussion. The obtaining of property by the consent of the owner under these fraudulent conditions is considered larceny. In other words, an actual physical trespass or interference with property is not always required to be proven.


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