Case Studies: Property Crimes

Bar Owner Defeats Arson Charges After Defense Cross-Examination at Trial

The owner of a Philadelphia area restaurant and bar retained the Lento Law Firm's Criminal Defense Team to defend arson charges. The premises had burned to the point of total replacement, ostensibly due to a kitchen fire. Fire investigators, though, found only suspicious origins of the fire. And only our client had been at the premises when the fire began. Our client also appeared to have delayed in calling for fire assistance, which our client maintained was due to his own frantic efforts to put out the fire. Detectives believed that the old age and poor condition of the premises, and its need for renovation, had spurred our client to set the fire himself to collect fire insurance proceeds for the renovation. Our client had, in fact, consulted with designers about a renovation not long before the fire. The circumstantial evidence presented a strong enough case against our client that the prosecution refused to plea bargain. At trial, our lead defense attorney's cross-examination of the prosecution's fire experts tended to raise doubts over their opinions. Our retained arson investigator testified in defense of a plausible accidental cause for the fire. Our lead defense attorney also argued that our client would not have set the fire himself and then called for fire assistance if our client had planned the arson. Our client did not testify. The jury returned a not-guilty verdict. Interviews of the jurors afterward confirmed that our cross-examination, expert's defense testimony, and arguments had raised just enough doubt for the favorable verdict.

Designer Avoids Conviction on Burglary Charge

An interior designer retained the Lento Law Firm's Criminal Defense Team after her arrest for burglary. Our client provided interior design services for a couple residing in a lavish urban Pennsylvania home. The design services represented a substantial contract requiring our client to purchase, deliver, and arrange furniture and retain contractors to furnish and install floor and window coverings. The couple made the required advance on the contract but refused to pay the balance after our client completed the work according to their design specifications. Frustrated at the couple's intransigence but not wanting to sue the couple for the balance, our client entered the couple's home one evening when she knew they were aware and removed furniture items about which the couple had specifically complained as not conforming to the design contract. When the couple discovered our client's actions, they complained to the police, who obtained a burglary charge against our client. Our Criminal Defense Team's strategic approach, approved by our client, was to encourage the prosecutor to treat the dispute as a civil rather than criminal matter while pursuing facilitative mediation of the design and financial issues. The prosecutor accordingly indicated to the complaining couple that he was considering dismissing the charge in favor of civil relief that either party could pursue. The prosecutor's indication caused the couple to accept our client's offer at mediation to forego civil action to pursue the contract balance if our client got to retain the furniture she had removed. The matter was settled on that basis, and the prosecutor then dismissed the criminal charge.

Scholarship Athlete Avoids Criminal Mischief Conviction

A scholarship athlete at a Pennsylvania private university retained the Lento Law Firm's Criminal Defense Team after his arrest on criminal mischief charges. The charges arose out of a prank that several university students played on their dormitory resident assistant (RA) in which the students covered the RA's vehicle with writing, signs, and other adornments. Our client had played only a small role, at most, in the prank but was the only prominent student among the other offenders. The prank so embarrassed and offended the RA that he reported the matter to campus police, who sought and obtained the criminal mischief charge against only our client. Our strategic approach with the prosecution was to minimize our client's role, if any, in the incident while suggesting that the charge against our client reflected selective and discriminatory prosecution. We further determined to wait to raise those arguments until after the initial publicity had passed due to the campus community's exaggerated outrage over the minor incident in which no one was hurt, and the vehicle suffered no damage. The offending students had cleaned the vehicle shortly after the prank. Our lead defense attorney succeeded in adjourning various court hearings and conferences until months passed. Our lead defense attorney then presented the evidence of our client's relative non-involvement, good character, and otherwise good behavior, and the concern over selective and discriminatory enforcement at a pre-trial conference. The prosecutor agreed to a dismissal, which the judge approved and entered.

Estate Representative Successfully Defends Forgery Charge

The representative of a decedent's estate retained the Lento Law Firm's Criminal Defense Team after her arrest on forgery charges. Our client was the adult daughter of an elderly mother who had died, leaving substantial personal and real property. The mother had designated our client as the personal representative of her estate. The mother's will further provided that our client would receive the mother's luxury vehicle, while other adult children received other personal property of roughly equal value. On that basis, our client had signed her mother's name on the back of the vehicle title to transfer the title over to our client at the secretary of state's office. When the other adult children discovered our client's action, they complained to the local prosecutor, who charged the action as a forgery. Our Criminal Defense Team was aware that the law did not authorize our client's action, which our client had taken on her own without legal advice. Signing a deceased person's name for legal advantage is generally a bad idea. But our strategic approach was to emphasize that our client had gained no advantage. Our client would have received the vehicle through estate proceedings even if she had not taken the action. We also ensured that our client effectively resisted her sibling's allegations of undue influence over her mother in the preparation of the will granting her the vehicle so that our client could credibly claim no advantage from the alleged forgery. The prosecutor dismissed the charge on the basis that the issue was an estate matter for probate court, not a criminal matter.

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