Were you arrested for picking up a "bait purse" in a Las Vegas casino? If so, you have probably been charged with grand larceny, a felony, and you face serious criminal penalties if you are convicted. Read about bait purse cases below, including how a criminal defense attorney can help a person charged with this offense.
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department has several "sting operation" programs in place to deter crime on the Las Vegas Strip, Downtown, and throughout the Vegas Valley. One of these programs is Metro's "bait purse" program, in which undercover police plant a purse, filled with various property and money, somewhere in a casino, and wait to see if someone comes along to pick the purse up and steal it. Thus, the purse is used as "bait" to hook certain casino guests.
The purses are placed in locations that make them appear to have been left by casino patrons who were sitting at a slot machine and then left, forgetting their purse on an adjacent seat or on the side of a machine after they were done playing. Metro does not arrest people immediately when they pick up the purse. Instead, using video surveillance, police wait until the person walks past casino security and appears to be headed out of the casino.
A person who is arrested for picking up a bait purse will be charged with grand larceny pursuant to NRS 205.220. A person commits larceny when he intentionally steals or takes and carries away the personal property of another person. Larceny is only a misdemeanor if the value of the property is under $650. This is known as "petty larceny." However, if the value of the property allegedly stolen is over $650, the offense becomes "grand larceny," which is a category C felony, punishable by 1 to 5 years in Nevada prison and a $10,000 fine.
Pursuant to NRS 205.275(6), the value of the property, for determining whether a theft offense is a misdemeanor or a felony, is "the highest value attributable to the property by any reasonable standard." The Nevada Supreme Court has determined that this has to be the "fair market value" of the property. However, in a bait purse case, this is usually not an issue, since Metro controls the value of the property and selects the "bait" to maximize the potential criminal penalties.
Ordinarily, when setting up a bait purse sting, police will intentionally place property in the purse to ensure that the crime is a felony offense. In other words, police might place a cellular phone and cash in the purse, which, when added to the value of the purse itself, will be more than $650, allowing the District Attorney to charge a grand larceny rather than a petty larceny.
If you have been charged with any crime after picking up a bait purse in Las Vegas, you need to talk to a criminal defense attorney right away. Defenses vary based on the specific facts of your case, but please read the following general comments about defending these types of charges.
The goal of the bait purse sting program is to catch casino patrons who, police believe, are actually thieves looking to victimize people. In reality, though, this program may ensnare people who have no criminal record, or who may have actually intended to return the property to its rightful owner. As outlined above, police will not arrest a person who picks up a purse right away. Instead, they wait until the person supposedly passes all security checkpoints and is on the way out of the casino. In arresting people for these charges, Metro often takes a too narrow view of how an innocent person might react upon finding a mislaid purse. For instance, a person who picks up a purse in a casino might not be aware of security around them due to the chaotic nature of a Vegas casino floor, or they may try to return the purse to its owner by looking at the identification inside and contacting the person later. In short, perfectly innocent people might not act in precisely the way Metro expects they should when they happen upon someone else's mislaid property.
Even if a person who picks up a bait purse in a casino actually does intend to steal the item, it may be possible to assert a defense of entrapment. Entrapment is a full legal defense to a crime. The theory of an entrapment defense is based on the idea that police shouldn't create crime or criminals. If police induced a person to commit a crime, then the person is not guilty under entrapment theory. However, there are a few things to keep in mind about an entrapment defense. First, it's an "affirmative defense" which must be asserted at trial and established by the defendant. Second, if someone asserts the defense of entrapment, the prosecution is allowed to put on evidence of criminal "propensity," meaning that the defendant was predisposed to committing crime. Ordinarily, this type of evidence would be banned from a trial, but asserting an entrapment defense opens up the door to this evidence. Of course, if a defendant doesn't have a criminal record, this is not an issue.
Remember, to convict you of any crime, the prosecutor has to prove that you are guilty beyond all reasonable doubt. This is a high standard of proof. But even if the prosecutor can prove the case against you, this does not necessarily mean that you will be convicted of this offense. Most cases, even those that the prosecutor can prove, end through negotiations rather than going to trial. A criminal defense attorney will in many instances be able to negotiate a plea deal that allows you to avoid the worse penalties, including jail or prison time.
I have defended many people ensnared in bait purse theft cases in Las Vegas. If you were arrested for these charges or any other criminal charges, call me now to talk about your case. Consultations are always free.
By Michael Pandullo