CRIME AND CRIMINALS;
March 12, 2003
TAKING FREE NEWSPAPERS
By: George Coppolo, Chief Attorney
You asked whether it is a crime for someone to take most or all copies of newspapers that are left in various public places for the public to take free of charge. Our office is not authorized to give legal opinions and this should not be considered one.
There does not appear to be any criminal law that explicitly deals with this conduct. But there are several laws that a prosecutor might try to use to deal with it. These include: criminal trover in the second degree, disorderly conduct, breach of peace in the second degree, criminal mischief in the third degree, creating a public disturbance, and larceny.
We spoke with Bob Hudd, Director of Public Safety and Chief of Police for the University of Connecticut. He indicated that his department was investigating the recent theft of free student newspapers at the University of Connecticut. Hudd advised us that the case was unusual, and that most of the papers that were taken were returned that same day. Hudd further stated that the papers were redistributed so that most of the newspapers may have in fact reached the intended audience that same day. Because of this, Chief Hudd indicated that he was not sure that the larceny statues would apply.
We also spoke with Matt Gadnewsky, the prosecutor in charge at the Superior Court in Rockville, which is the location where crimes that occur at the University of Connecticut are prosecuted. He said his office had not dealt with the issue of whether taking most or all copies of free newspapers constituted a crime. He indicated that his office would look into this if a case is brought to his court.
CRIMINAL TROVER IN THE SECOND-DEGREE
A person is guilty of criminal trover in the second degree when, knowing he is not licensed or privileged to do so, he uses the personal property of another person without the owner’s consent, and in the process damages or diminishes the property’s value. Criminal trover in the second degree is a class A misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $ 2,000, imprisonment for up to 1 year, or both (CGS § 53a-126b).
A person is guilty of disorderly conduct when, with intent to cause inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk of that, he by offensive or disorderly conduct annoys or interferes with another person. Disorderly conduct is a class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $ 500, a prison term of up to 3 months, or both (CGS § 53a-182).
BREACH OF PEACE IN THE SECOND-DEGREE
A person is guilty of breach of the peace in the second degree, when with intent to cause inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk of it, he creates an offensive condition by any act that he is not licensed or privileged to do. Breach of peace in the second degree is a class B misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $ 500, a prison term of up to 6 months, or both (CGS § 53a-181).
CRIMINAL MISCHIEF IN THE THIRD-DEGREE
A person is guilty of criminal mischief in the third degree when, having no reasonable ground to believe he has a right to do so, he intentionally or recklessly (1) damages tangible property of another person or (2) tampers with tangible property of another person and thereby causes such property to be placed in danger of damage. Criminal mischief in the third degree is a class B misdemeanor (CGS § 53a-117).
A person is guilty of creating a public disturbance when, with intent to cause inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk of those things, he annoys or interferes with another person by offensive conduct. Creating a public disturbance is an infraction (CGS § 53a-118 et. seq. ).
A person commits larceny when, with intent to deprive another person of property or to appropriate it to himself or a third person, he wrongfully takes, obtains, or withholds the property from an owner. The penalty for larceny generally depends on, the value of the property taken. For example, it is a class C felony if the property value exceeds $ 5,000, and it is a class C misdemeanor if the value of the property is $ 250 or less (CGS § 53a-122 et. seq. ).
The larceny laws contain definitions. “Obtain” means bringing about the transfer or purported transfer of property or the legal interest of property to the obtainer or to someone else. “Deprive another of property” means to (1) withhold or cause it to be withheld from an owner permanently or for so extended a period or under such circumstances that the major portion of its economic value or benefit is lost to the owner, or (2) dispose of the property in such a manner, or under such circumstances, as to render unlikely that an owner would recover the property. “Appropriate property of another to oneself or a third person”, means to (1) exercise control over, or to aid a third person to exercise control over, permanently, or for so extended a period, or under such circumstances, as to acquire the major portion of its economic benefit, or (2) dispose of the property to benefit himself or a third person. Finally, the larceny laws define the term “owner” to mean anyone who has the right to possession superior to that of the taker, obtainer, or withholder (CGS § 53a-118).