Theft of $100,000 From N.J. Employer
- May 19, 2016
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Deborah Meehan was convicted of second-degree theft by unlawful taking (N.J.S.A. 2C:20-3) after issuing checks to herself in the amount of over $100,000 by affixing the stamp of a law firm partner to checks in her control as the law firm’s bookkeeper. Following an investigation, Meehan was questioned and admitted, during a videotaped interview, that she did not have permission to issue the checks. The jury found Meehan guilty of second-degree theft but, at sentencing, the trial judge downgraded the offense to third-degree and sentenced her to prison, refusing to accept her application for probation. The State appealed and the Defendant cross-appealed indicating she did not effectively waive her right to remain silent and therefore her confession should be suppressed. In State v. Meehan, the NJ Appellate Division initially reviewed the voluntariness of the Defendant’s confession under State v. Hreha, 217 N.J. 368 (2014), Miranda V. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S. Ct. 1602, 16 L. Ed. 2d 694 (1966), State v. Graham, 59 N.J. 366 (1971), State v. Warmbrun, 277 N.J. Super. 51 (App. Div. 1994), and State v. Galloway, 133 N.J. 631 (1993). The panel held that the state met it’s burden of proof showing the police did not overbear Meehan’s will and her statement was provided after a voluntary and knowing waiver of her rights. The panel further held that neither the jury charge nor the prosecutor’s statements were prejudicial to the Defendant. The panel did find for the State in holding that it was an abuse of the trial judge’s discretion to downgrade the second-degree conviction to third-degree. Pursuant to State v. Roth, 95 N.J. 334 (1984), the NJ Appellate Division will not typically disturb the sentence of a trial court unless it constitutes abuse of discretion. Pursuant to State v. O’Donnell, 117 N.J. 210 (1989) and State v. Case, 220 N.J. 49 (2014), the state must first review the aggravating and mitigating factors set forth in N.J.S.A. 2C:44-1(a) and then balance the relevant factors and explain how the final sentencing decision is reached in light of the analysis. N.J.S.A. 2C:44-1(d) requires prison for second-degree crimes unless there are exceptional circumstances as the court fully set forth in State v. Evers, 175 N.J. 355 (2003) and, under the facts, denial of probation was appropriate. N.J.S.A. 2C:44-1(f)(2) relating to the downgrade of sentences, sets forth that where mitigating factors substantially outweigh the aggravating factors and the interests of justice are best served by the downgrade, the court has discretion to reduce the term to that of a crime one degree below that for which the Defendant was convicted. State v. Megargel, 143 N.J. 484 (1996) and State v. Lake, 408 N.J. Super. 313 (App. Div. 2009) jointly provide a valuable explanation of the analysis the court should conduct in considering a downgrade. The N.J. Appellate panel considered the legislative intent in drafting N.J.S.A. 2C:20-2(b)(1). The panel agreed with the State’s likening of the matter to State v. Jones, 197 N.J. Super 604 (App. Div. 1984) wherein a defendant’s second degree theft by deception (N.J.S.A. 2C:20-4) was downgraded to third-degree and later reversed after the court found the downgrade to be abuse of the trial court’s discretion. The N.J. Appellate Division ultimately reversed the downgraded sentence, holding that Meehan’s theft of over $100,000 from her employer was serious and a downgrade would not serve the interests of justice, and remanded for sentencing accordingly. A second-degree theft conviction will result in a 5-10 year prison sentence. If you are facing second-degree criminal charges it is critical you obtain an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately to protect your rights and build a defense against the prosecution’s case. For more information about theft, burglary and other serious criminal issues in New Jersey visit DarlingFirm.com. This blog is for informational purposes and not intended to replace the advice of counsel.