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Suppose that a person, A, was hired by an employer, B, and then got fired a week later. Suppose that B mailed A a laptop while A was employed by B. Once A had been fired, B emailed A asking for the laptop back and sent a box for it to be returned. Suppose that A was fired on Tuesday, got the email Wednesday, and was charged with theft (GS 14-74) on the following Monday. Suppose that B called the local police and made a complaint, and a warrant was issued for A's arrest on Tuesday. The laptop has already been mailed back by then.

Is such an arrest lawful? What options does A have?

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Dale M
    Jun 11, 2022 at 23:20

6 Answers 6

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If you are facing felony charges, you need to hire a criminal defense lawyer, not ask for legal advice on the Internet. Do not talk to the police without your lawyer present. Do not attempt to represent yourself in any kind of hearing. Ignore any advice based on what seems fair or reasonable to someone on the Internet unless it is based on a real case in North Carolina or written by a real lawyer.

That said, it appears to me that you have at least two strong defenses. First, if you you returned the laptop (It will help if you sent it by registered mail or otherwise kept a receipt, although, remember, they need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you kept it), that shows you had no “intent to steal” or “purpose to steal” it, which is a necessary element of the crime. Second, according to the University of North Carolina criminal law blog, you appear to have been charged with the wrong offense (although I don’t think that will actually help you if the prosecutor decides to bring the charge that matches what your former employer alleges you to have done). It cites a relevant North Carolina Supreme Court ruling on the difference between larceny and embezzlement, State v. McDonald, 45 S.E. 582 (N.C. 1903).

I would focus on getting yourself cleared of these charges first. You can ask your lawyer if there is any recourse you might have against your former employer. I’m skeptical that suing them would be worth it, but I don’t know the circumstances. If you have proof of what they said to you and about you, hang on to it.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Dale M
    Jun 11, 2022 at 23:20
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The laptop was in your possession legally. Being fired makes no difference, it is still in your possession legally. Of course they can demand that you return the laptop, but that has to happen in a reasonable time. Charging you with theft two working days after is not allowing a reasonable time. For example, if you told me I was fired today, it wouldn't be unreasonable for me to take off for a week or two to visit friends, and get the email and the box two weeks later. Still no theft.

Assuming that you were contacted by the police, you can. go to them, explain the situation, and tell them that your ex-employer made a malicious false allegation. I believe you also have the right to ask the police about anything they hold against you to see exactly what is going on.

(If we only look at the title of the question: If you are fired today, and next week your old employer figures out that you stole from them, of course you can be charged. The difference is that in your situation, you didn't steal anything, and they should have known that).

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Dale M
    Jun 11, 2022 at 23:20
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In my jursdiction, the crime of shoplifting only requires that you take physical possession of goods for sale with the intent of permanently depriving their rightful owner of those goods. Pretty much every shopper at a grocery store satisfies every element of the crime of shoplifting except they don't have the right mental state.

If you pick up a melon in a grocery store with the intent to steal it, you've committed a crime. If you pick up that melon with no intent to steal it, you're shopping.

Now, of course, we can't directly prove what mental state a person has. But if you put a chicken down your pants in a grocery store, a jury could reasonably infer that you were stealig it.

In this case, you have satisfied every element of the crime of larceny by employee except the intent element. Larceny by employee requires the employee to have the intent of permanently depriving the rightful owner of the property.

To charge you, someone had to have a reasonable belief that you intended to permanently retain the laptop. Otherwise, what they're doing is no different from charging someone with shoplifting for picking up a melon.

You need a lawyer. The lawyer needs to figure out what your employer told the police and what was the basis for the charge.

From what you've said, it seems like someone screwed up because there is no conceivable way anyone could reasonably believe that you intended to retain the laptop.

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  • Not sure about the UK, but in Germany you have to leave the store before something you bought is your property or something you planned to steal is stolen (hypothetically, if a robber takes your brand new phone from your hands while you are still in the store, they stole from the store and not from you. You step through the door, they steal from you).
    – gnasher729
    Jun 9, 2022 at 20:33
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    @gnasher729 I don't know any German, but as I read the German law, it just requires you to take dominion of someone else's property with the intent to keep it. I don't see any reason why, for example, merely putting something in your pocket wouldn't qualify. Jun 9, 2022 at 22:31
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The real issue here is if charges have been filled.

While unpleasant, an arrest carries very little legal weight. It simply means that the police thought that you could be guilty, but they were not sure and you were not allowed a chance to defend yourself. This means that innocent people get arrested every day, no big deal!

Now, if you have shown to the police/DA (and convinced them) that you already had sent the laptop, it shows that you did not intend to keep it itself, and it is unlikely that the DA (the one who could press charges) will continue.

If he wants to continue, you get representation by a lawyer that helps you through the trial.

To address your questions:

Is such an arrest lawful?

Probably yes, at least from the part of the police. Even if from your POV is overkill, that does not mean that they did something illegal or that you can sue them.

What options does A have?

If we are talking about defending against charges of theft, there is one: hire a lawyer.

If we are talking at getting a compensation to your troubles, next to none. Certainly none from the police. The only thing that I think could be helpful would be if your employer deceived the police about your intentions.

E.g., if you told your employer "I am busy right now but if you come to my place I will hand you the laptop, otherwise I will mail it on Monday" and your employer reported to the police that what you say was "I am keeping my laptop and you will never see it again!", then probably you could sue your employer. But then you would need evidence of what was said.

But if your employer told the police "he says he will return it but I do not believe him", then the employer was not lying to the police and he is quite safe.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Dale M
    Jun 11, 2022 at 23:20
  • "It simply means that the police thought that you could be guilty, but they were not sure and you were not allowed a chance to defend yourself": actually, because a warrant was issued, it means that a judge was convinced that there was probable cause to believe that the suspect had committed a crime.
    – phoog
    Jun 26, 2023 at 20:51
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Yes, the arrest is lawful. But, when he has a hearing, the laptop being mailed back when it was shows lack of intent to permanently deprive the employer of the laptop, which is an element of the crime of theft, so, he can't be charged but WHY would the employer call the police so soon??

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    Why would the employer call the police so soon? I have no idea, but I assume there is bad blood and the employer does not like OP.
    – emory
    Jun 9, 2022 at 12:40
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    – Community Bot
    Jun 9, 2022 at 13:17
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    "Yes the arrest is lawful" seems dubious and needs citations to back it up. In particular, arresting someone without, not just suspicion, but probable cause is illegal in the U.S. That's not to say that it doesn't happen, but it's not legal.
    – reirab
    Jun 9, 2022 at 23:02
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    @DidIReallyWriteThat Unless you have agreed otherwise in exchange for $$$, please name and shame the company that as a matter of routine causes their former employees to be arrested. No one should have to endure that.
    – emory
    Jun 10, 2022 at 17:13
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    @DidIReallyWriteThat a former employee takes about a week to return a laptop and the company files charges? and there is no bad blood? If I got arrested in similar circumstances I would be PISSED. If the contract fell through that is OK. These things happen. Former employees should be treated with more grace though.
    – emory
    Jun 24, 2023 at 15:00
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Was A competent and co-operative? Assuming you are A :-

(I have been end of contract. A few times.)

Often there is a chain of command involved, and there may be form on the part of those responsible. I have had issues returning the laptops of others where serial numbers have not matched.

Do not sit on the box. The will send you a box and should also arrange a courier. You need to have that box packed and labelled by the time the courier/carrier arrives. You must tell them if there are barriers. In a number of my cases I have been in different cities, and have also been expected to keep the original box. During Covid-19 my location was assumed correctly a few times which was actually convenient. They may also have been expecting to re-hire you (happens a lot) as seamlessly as possible. Things change.

It is even possible for all this to be kicked off after you have exchanged assets already. Just make sure you have witnesses and documentation.

Internally that chain of command has deadlines and the shouting/screaming travels down to the person that contacts you. They are in a world of discomfort, and may have left things a bit late. They are not going to allege theft, but maybe a peer or superior will. Certainly it sounds unreasonable if you are co-operating within reason.

Pack everything they gave you. Even if broken, the original parts. In the past I have missed Kensington Locks and they did not make a fuss, but were sad.

Co-operate, and keep records. Communicate clearly and as early as possible if there are any barriers. It can be hard work at short notice, but you should have been expecting this. You should also not be paying any costs.

  • Itemise the contents, record serial numbers.
  • Photograph the label, send them a copy.
  • Record the date and time of Pickup.
  • Track the return delivery.

I am not a lawyer, but bailment obligations may apply and the onus to prove meeting duties of care may be upon you. Generally civil matters.

If you have done a runner with the laptop and have been verballed, then the arrest is still valid and you are back to they said/I said. Email trails help. The person making the complaint may not know your line manager told you to keep it for an imminent new contract.

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    This is mostly advice, and does not appear to even attempt to answer the legal question.
    – feetwet
    Jun 13, 2022 at 19:10
  • @feetweet, anyone can be charged with anything. The answer is YES. The question is vague on likelyhood or what might be considered reasonable.
    – mckenzm
    Jun 13, 2022 at 22:00
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    @feetwet Agreed. This would be a really nice answer if posted to a related question asked before anything went wrong on The Workplace. Jun 14, 2022 at 4:55
  • I'll pay that @Dan Is Fiddling By Firelight a literal interpretation of that statute would require intent, and a act of withdrawal to be proven. That is still no guarantee there will not be an allegation, and by extension, a charge. It would seem vexatious based upon the account. As my answer states, it is not uncommon for circumstances to be embellished upon. Responding late as someone else has down-voted without a comment.
    – mckenzm
    Jun 30, 2023 at 2:53

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