Rhode Island has a particularly confusing statute governing theft by false pretenses. It states:
Every person who shall obtain from another designedly, by any false pretense or pretenses, any money, goods, wares, or other property, with intent to cheat or defraud, and every person who shall personate another or who shall falsely represent himself or herself to be the agent or servant of another and shall receive any money or other property intended to be delivered to the person so personated, or to the alleged principal or master of that agent or servant, shall be deemed guilty of larceny. RI Gen L § 11-41-4 (2017).
But what does this mean? This statute describes three different ways one might commit the crime of theft by false pretenses. Below are three examples to illustrate this conduct.
Obtaining Property by False Pretenses
It is illegal to obtain money or property by falsely representing the facts surrounding the transaction. Imagine, for example, you go to the local big box store and purchases a large screen television using a check. Imagine the checkbook belongs to you and your name and address are properly on the check. However, imagine this checking account is closed. There is nothing on the check that would indicate the account has been closed. Paying for an item using a closed account constitutes using false pretenses (that the check is good) to get a television, intending to defraud the store by making them believe the check has value.
Falsely Representing Oneself
It is also illegal to obtain money or property by falsely representing who you are. Imagine, for example, instead of writing a check on a closed account, you use a check from another person's account. When you write a check, you are representing both that you have money in the account to pay for the item, and that you are authorized to write the check. Using someone else's account, without their permission, is fraudulent, as you are representing you are the person who owns the checking account or otherwise have signing privileges. It is this representation that results in the store allowing you to walk out with the merchandise.
Falsely Representing One's Authority
It is also illegal to represent you have authority you do not have in order to obtain property. Imagine you are standing on someone's doorstep, knocking on the front door, with the intent to sell magazine subscriptions to whoever answers the door. Imagine further that no one answers, and just as you turn to leave, a delivery truck pulls up, and a delivery driver gets out with a package.
As they walk to the front door, they ask, “Are you the person that lives here? I have a package for Jane Smith at this address.” You should respond, “No, I have no connection with this house.” However, if you respond instead, “I am Jane Smith's daughter, I can take the package,” you have just represented yourself as an agent for Jane Smith in order to obtain the package. This false information is what leads the delivery driver to hand you the package. This fraudulent representation is also a crime.
Are You Charged with a Theft Crime?
If you are charged with a crime, you need a criminal defense attorney who can assist you every step of the way. If you made a mistake that led to criminal charges, don't compound that mistake by representing yourself in court. Contact the Law Offices of Kensley R. Barrett, ESQ. We offer compassionate and competent legal representation in criminal defense cases. Call us today at (401) 380-6724.