The military prosecutes larceny (theft) under UCMJ Article 121. The elements for a successful prosecution are:
1. That the accused wrongfully took, obtained, or withheld certain property from the possession of the owner or of any other person;
2. That the property belonged to a certain person;
3. That the property was of a certain value, or of some value; and
4. That the taking, obtaining, or withholding by the accused was with the intent permanently to deprive or defraud another person of the use and benefit of the property or permanently to appropriate the property for the use of the accused or for any person other than the owner.
“Wrongful appropriation” is a “lessor included offense” of larceny. With wrongful appropriation, the accused only temporarily deprives the owner of the use of property. An example would be if a service member used another’s automobile without permission and then later returned the automobile to the rightful owner.
There are wide varieties of factual circumstances that lead to Larceny allegations. Due to the importance of camaraderie and unit cohesiveness in the military, larceny from a fellow service member may trigger a swift and harsh response from a commander (convening authority). Obviously, the value of the property will also be extremely important to a commander when determining proper disposition of a case. Other important factors may include the amount of planning and premeditation involved, the length of time involved in the alleged larceny, and whether the property is military property.
One common scenario that may trigger a special or general court-martial is the larceny of housing allowances through false official statements. These scenarios can often lead to allegations involving tens of thousands of dollars when they go on for many years. In addition to a court-martial prosecution, the commander will also typically recoup the funds from the service member.
If you are facing larceny or wrongful appropriation allegations, it is extremely important that you receive advice and guidance from a competent military lawyer at the earliest possible juncture. Early intervention by a skilled military lawyer can significantly alter the course and the outcome of your case.
Jeffrey Meeks and Bruce White have extensive experience in defending UCMJ Article 121 larceny allegations. Please call for a consultation.