Interviewer: Are there alternative punishment diversion programs for theft?
Sam Sachs: For first offenders, there are diversionary programs. If it’s a repeated act where someone’s been doing the same thing over and over and over again, like if someone is repeatedly embezzling money from their employer, they may not qualify for the first offenders program so if they’ve embezzled 50 times in the course of a year then depending on the county the prosecutor they may say, “Hey, this is a repeated act. This doesn’t qualify for diversion,” even though you’re a first offender because it was a repeated act.
Interviewer: Looking at a theft, what makes it a federal case?
Sam Sachs: If it occurs over state lines, it can be a federal case. If it has to do with copyrighted material it can be a federal case. With certain substances, like if there are guns or explosives, it might kick in federal jurisdiction. But across state lines frequently is what will kick it in. There are sometimes statutes that coexist depending on what the nature of the theft is, but most of this stuff ends up in state court, not in federal court.
Interviewer: In terms of the theft crimes, even shoplifting or all the way up to identity theft, what are the other charges stacked along with them when people are charged?
Sam Sachs: Sometimes there’s a cluster of theft crimes. It gets stacked because they try and pin other offenses on them. There could be an assault charge, there could be a burglary charge, and there could be a robbery charge. It depends on what other things were done. If you’re in possession of a weapon during the course of the theft, even if the weapon is an innocuous thing, it can cause additional charges. if I go into a store and steal something and I have a screwdriver in my pocket when they chase me and I pull the screwdriver, I’ve now wielded a weapon. It’s situational; it depends on what the circumstances are.
There could be other charges that flow from the act of the theft because of other things that go on. If you legally own a gun and you’re dealing drugs, now it’s an enhanced crime because you were in possession of a firearm when you committed a violation of the statutes pertaining to dealing drugs. It’s situational and it depends on what the other circumstances are.
Interviewer: Is it typical that prosecutors will overcharge people, especially as it relates to theft crimes?
Sam Sachs: Obviously, if I’m stealing social security checks from old ladies, that’s not going to quite be the same as taking a scarf from the mall. So of course some thefts are worse than others. I’ve had situations where grandchildren have beaten up their grandparents so that they can take their welfare money away. That’s obviously going to be looked at much more harshly than someone that takes a box of crackers out of a supermarket.