Maryland Court Upholds Criminal Conviction for Theft and Embezzlement from Joint Bank Account

A criminal charge is a serious matter, whether it is classified as a misdemeanor or felony offense, and the person charged must respond accordingly. While a misdemeanor is less serious than a felony, both can affect a person’s life in drastic ways, from jail time to having a criminal record. A person who is charged with a crime may raise any number of defenses to negate the charge or to reduce the severity of the offense. If you have been arrested or charged with a crime, the most important step to take is to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney from Maryland. Every state’s criminal laws differ to some extent. A local criminal lawyer would know how to provide the best defense for your case under the circumstances.

In a recent criminal case, a woman appealed her conviction for theft and embezzlement. The charges stemmed from allegations that the defendant took money from a joint bank account on which she was named a joint owner with her father. A trial was held over two days, and the court found the defendant guilty of theft and fraudulent misappropriation by a fiduciary. She was sentenced to eight years, with all but 18 months suspended, for theft and five years unsupervised probation. The defendant appealed the ruling, asking how a person who was added to a bank account as a joint owner with the intention of having an ownership interest can be guilty of theft from the joint account.

The court of appeals reviewed the facts as presented at trial. The “victim” was 84 years old and asked one of his three daughters (the defendant) to assist him with his banking needs. The victim added the defendant to his bank account as a joint owner. He testified at trial that the money was his and not the defendant’s, and that he only placed her on the account to take money out for him if he was unable to get it himself. From 2006-2009, $181,670.09 was withdrawn from the victim’s IRA, and $251,645.83 was taken from his account. The defendant denied taking money from the IRA without her father’s authorization. She also denied taking any money from the account for her own benefit.

The defendant argued that as a party to the joint account, she was an “owner” of the property and therefore could not be convicted of stealing her own property. The court of appeals proceeded to review two pertinent Maryland statutes:  Maryland’s Consolidated Theft Statute (§ 7-104) and the Financial Institutions Article (FI § 1-204). Under these statutes, the court sought to determine “ownership” of the account and concluded that the lower court correctly found that a “joint owner” account presumptively creates an ownership interest in both parties, but that presumption may be rebutted by evidence of the original owner’s contrary intent.

Here, the court determined that there was sufficient evidence to support the trial court’s finding that the defendant was not an owner. That is, the simple act of titling the account in the father and the defendant did not create an ownership interest in the defendant. And since the defendant was not an owner under the statutes, her conduct may be characterized as theft.

This case illustrates the importance of understanding the implications of Maryland’s criminal statutes and how they may apply to any set of facts.  A criminal charge or arrest is a serious matter. Seeking the counsel of an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney is one of the most effective ways to approach any criminal investigation. If you are arrested or charged with a crime, our office will work diligently to develop the best strategy to defend your case. Contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

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