On July 17, 2014, Created Equal visited Jackson, MS, site of the state's last remaining abortion facility as part of Day 4 of our Summer Justice Ride. Upon arrival, and despite several attempts by Created Equal's Mark Harrington to convince police to intervene, our property was stolen while police stood by idly.
The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution applies to the 50 states. Certainly these protesters have the right to display their message in a public place. Indeed, the police officer even told them so at the beginning of the video. And without a doubt, the man (men) who moved their signs from the street to the hallway had no right to do so. The police officers did not react to the pleas of the owners of the signs to stop the offending man from taking away their signs. Why not?
The video did not show the outcome of this incident. We do not know why the man was moving their signs. He moved them into an off-street entryway, so it is reasonable to guess that he did not want the signs to be seen. The video indicates that the owners of the signs intended to file charges for theft of property against the sign-taking man or men. The question is, will they be successful in criminal court?
There are dozens of witnesses to what transpired. Indeed, it was captured on film that has been seen by thousands of people. Is the man not guilty as sin?
The answer and the likelihood of success of a theft charge against the man will depend on how the criminal statutes of Mississippi define "theft" or "larceny" and how those statutes are interpreted. Here is a simple explanation:
Clearly, the element that is most troubling is the one that says the person taking the property must have an intent to deprive the owner permanently of his property. The man in this incident never says a word, and he does not take the property out of sight of the owners. So he will argue in defense that he did not intend to permanently deprive the owners of their property. He will argue that he was just moving it out of sight because he found it to be offensive.
What is Theft?The term theft is used widely to refer to crimes involving the taking of a person's property without their permission. But theft has a very broad legal meaning which may encompass more than one category, and multiple degrees, of crimes. Theft is often defined as the unauthorized taking of property from another with the intent to permanently deprive them of it. Within this definition lie two key elements:
1) a taking of someone else's property; and
2) the requisite intent to deprive the victim of the property permanently.
The taking element in a theft typically requires seizing possession of property that belongs to another, and may also involve removing or attempting to remove the property. However, it is the element of intent where most of the complex legal challenges typically arise in theft-related cases.
Does this make it right? Of course not. Is there anything the owners can do? They did not attempt to stop the man from taking their signs. They did no go into the hallway to try to retrieve their signs. Thus, there was not physical altercation. If they had gone into the hallway to get their property, they would have been charged with trespassing on private property.
I am sure that the man taking their signs was well-versed in the law and he knew that he has "lack of intent" as a defense. The owners reacted as he hoped -- they passively watched as he took their signs and removed them from public sight. If he eventually moved the signs back onto the sidewalk, perhaps after traffic died down or area businesses closed their doors, then he perhaps has a valid defense and will not be convicted. If he shut the door and did not return the property to a location where it was accessible to the owners without their having to commit a violation of the law (trespassing) to retrieve it, then again it is not likely that he could be convicted of theft.
Mississippi law also has a provision for "robbery." The victims in this case could assert that the man's actions constituted robbery, which is a more serious crime than mere theft.
The victims could assert that the man's silence, the fact that he had at least one accomplice, and the stowing away in a private hallway were all intimidating factors intended to scare them, thus putting them in fear of immediate injury if they tried to retrieve their rightful property. This is what would be required to prove there was a "felonious" intent, and it just might work.In Mississippi, robbery is defined as “feloniously [taking] the personal property of another, in his presence or from his person and against his will, by violence to his person or by putting such person in fear of some immediate injury to his person . . . .” Miss. Code Ann. § 97-3-73. This is “simple robbery,” or it is sometimes referred to as “strong arm robbery.”
In order to convict you of robbery in Mississippi, the State must prove:
Moore v. State, 942 So.2d 251 (Miss. 2006). If you are convicted of simple robbery (without a weapon), you can receive up to 15 years in the state penitentiary. Miss. Code Ann. § 97-3-75.
- That you had a “felonious intent;”
- that you used force or putting in fear as a means of effectuating a theft; and
- that you took and carried away someone else’s property from the victim’s person or in the victim’s presence.
Whatever happens in the criminal case, the victims here can also pursue civil tort charges against the man who took their property. If he damaged any of their signs he could be forced to pay restitution.
I am not defending the inaction of the officers. But if they were knowledgeable of the elements of the crime of theft, then they may have known that a charge of theft would be difficult to prove. Or perhaps they were just happy to see the protesters being harassed and deprived of their visual aids. Either way, the attention that the sign-taker and the inactive police officers have drawn to this situation has caused it to gain wider viewing than if the incident had never happened or the police had simply intervened.
Life Site News provides an update of what followed the video above. Higher level police arrived, and the man who stole the signs was identified as Mike Peters, owner and developer of Fondren Corner, the building into which the man took the signs.
Indeed, sign-owner CreatedEqual is the same organization whose member was a victim a few weeks ago when he was attacked by a woman in Ohio while he was protesting against abortion. This incident was also caught on video tape.
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