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COA reaffirms separate convictions for check theft not warranted

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The Indiana Court of Appeals granted the state’s petition for rehearing in a case in which the defendant stole checks from a man’s mailbox, but affirmed its original decision that the taking of the checks and what the defendant did with them constituted a single continuing act of theft.

In April,  the COA reversed several of Sterlen Shane Keller’s theft convictions based on the single larceny rule. He had in his possession a Social Security check and Edward Jones checks that belonged to Robert Collier. He took the checks from Collier’s mailbox on one occasion.

The state argued that Keller made an independent decision to exert control over the three Edward Jones checks by cashing them, which is separate from his taking of the Social Security check from the mailbox.

“Contrary to the State’s assertion, we cannot disregard Keller’s act of taking the checks from the mailbox because that is the point at which Keller began knowingly or intentionally exerting unauthorized control over them with the intent to deprive Collier of their value or use,” Judge Michael Barnes wrote in Sterlen Shane Keller v. State of Indiana, 59A01-1206-CR-271.

“Regardless of what Keller did with the checks after he took them — whether he put them in his garage or cashed them — he committed the offense when he took the checks from Collier’s mailbox and from that point on he committed a single continuing act of theft.”

The judges also weren’t persuaded by the state’s argument that its earlier holding disserves the purpose of the single larceny rule: to punish a single criminal design only once.

“To the extent that Keller’s subsequent decision to cash some of the checks he had taken evidenced an additional criminal design, the State could have charged him with the theft of those funds (as opposed to theft of the checks), forgery, or any other applicable offense,” Barnes wrote. “The State’s decision not to charge Keller for the act of cashing the checks further underscores the importance of the charging documents and its contents.”

 

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