Cop sliced for $100 cheese - Policewoman loses job as simple-larceny appeal fails
A slice of cheese valued at a little more than $100 has cost a policewoman her job and given the Court of Appeal the chance to rule on whether the act of shoplifting is done only when a person leaves an establishment without paying for the goods.
"This is really frightening and I really feel sad to know that a slice of cheese could be so tempting that my colleague could end up in this embarrassing situation," one member of the police force told The Sunday Gleaner after news broke that the policewoman had lost her appeal against her conviction for simple larceny.
The case will now be used as a precedent as the Court of Appeal thoroughly researched several English cases and reviewed the Larceny Act before deciding that the policewoman's conviction should not be overturned.
It was once widely held that the customer had to exit the building before he or she could be accosted for stolen items, but in its ruling the Court of Appeal held that it is not so.
Georgette Tyndale was a member of the Jamaica Constabulary Force in March 2012 when she went to a supermarket in Mandeville, Manchester, and placed the slice of cheese in her handbag.
She had picked up other items, placed them in a basket, which she took to the cashier's counter and cashed them. After she cashed the goods, the assistant manager of the supermarket went up to her and informed her that she was seen putting the piece of cheese in her handbag.
It is reported that Tyndale said it must have dropped in her handbag when she was taking out money.
However, when she was interviewed by the police she gave a different story.
Tyndale reportedly told the police that the cheese must have fallen into her handbag when she was placing some money in it.
She was charged with simple larceny and at the trial in the Manchester Parish Court in 2012, evidence was given that she first took the piece of cheese and placed it between two water bottles on a shelf.
A few minutes later she returned, took up the piece of cheese and placed it in her handbag.
The policewoman then cashed some items and did not pay for the cheese. She was on her way out of the supermarket when she was accosted by the assistant manager.
In her defence, Tyndale said she was at the cashier's counter waiting for her change when the assistant manager spoke to her about the cheese in her handbag. She said she told him it was a genuine mistake and offered to pay for it, but he refused.
Parish judge Oswald Burchenson found her guilty of simple larceny and placed her on probation for two years.
Attorney-at-law Norman Godfrey, who represented Tyndale, filed several grounds of appeal while contending that the judge failed to properly and adequately assess the evidence adduced by the prosecution.
Godfrey argued that the judge erred when he held that "the intention of the accused is sufficiently manifested on the evidence of having no intention to purchase the article when she placed it in her handbag and did not have to pass the cashier's cage to commit the offence".
The judge said Tyndale's account of how the piece of cheese came to be in her handbag "is not only conflicting but flies in the face of reasoning".
Godfrey submitted that although it was recognised that under certain circumstances the larceny could have taken place before Tyndale passed the checkout counter, that was not the case advanced by the prosecution.
According to Godfrey, there was material inconsistency as to the point where she was accosted.
He noted that Tyndale was not denying that she did not pay for the cheese, but it was for the judge to make a determination whether or not she had left the cashier's station when she was accosted, because that would go to the question as to whether the purchase was complete.
The attorney further argued that in a case of larceny, intent and asportation were important ingredients to the offence.
Godfrey said based on the comments the judge made, the act of larceny was complete at the point where she placed the cheese in her handbag. It showed that the judge did not take into account the question of asportation.
But Crown Counsel Leighton Morris asked the court not to overturn the conviction because the actus reus (taking the cheese) and the mens rea (placing the cheese in the bag and not paying for it) were present and so the crime was complete.
President of the Court of Appeal Justice Dennis Morrison, Justice Paulette Williams and Justice Carol Edwards, in dismissing the appeal, said the goods remain the property of the owner of the supermarket until "the price is paid, and it is only then that the property in the goods passes to the shopper.
"In our view, in order for the shopper to be found guilty of stealing from a self-serve store such as a supermarket under the Larceny Act, the shopper must have taken away and carried away the goods without the consent of the owner with a dishonest intent to permanently deprive the owner of it at the time of taking."
The judges said the "mere removal of goods from the shelf was not sufficient to amount to asportation as it was done under limited permission by the proprietor for the purpose of the transaction at the cashier, and the crime is only complete where, after the licence terminates at the point of offer and acceptance, that is, at the cashier station, the shopper, with intent to steal, deliberately fails to tender payment for the goods".
They also found that the parish judge adopted the correct view and there was sufficient evidence on which he could have found that Tyndale was guilty of the charge of larceny.