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Someone ('A') has emails and a couple of text messages from another person ('B') that authorize the removal of scrap metal and a few other items. B gives the A the code to the gate at the address.

A goes to the designated address, types in the code, the gate opens and they remove the items they are told to get.

Subsequently, the owner of the property ('C') states that no-one was supposed to authorize such a thing.

Has A committed a crime?

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  • 3
    Is the "another person" authorized to give out the gate code and issue the order to remove scrap?
    – RonJohn
    Dec 14, 2023 at 6:29
  • 5
    Do you mean 'B' gives 'A' the code?
    – komodosp
    Dec 14, 2023 at 14:39
  • @komodosp - That's my bad. I "fixed it wrong"
    – Richard
    Dec 14, 2023 at 19:59

2 Answers 2

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The definition of "theft" covers this scenario, under RCW 9a.56.020, that "it shall be a sufficient defense that: (a) The property or service was appropriated openly and avowedly under a claim of title made in good faith, even though the claim be untenable". Burglary requires an intent to commit a crime, such as taking good without permission. This is not even criminal trespass, which has a good faith defense that "The actor reasonably believed that the owner of the premises, or other person empowered to license access thereto, would have licensed him or her to enter or remain", as manifested in having been told to pick up the material and having been given the code. The owner could however sue for the return of the scrap.

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  • 1
    What about the "another person"? Presumably they could be charged with some crime.
    – RonJohn
    Dec 14, 2023 at 6:30
  • 1
    @RonJohn it depends. The other person might maliciously trick the other person, then it's likely a crime, or they are also mislead and thought they had the authority.
    – Trish
    Dec 14, 2023 at 9:43
  • They might not be misled, either. If C owns the property and the scrap, but B is the site manager, then B might well be acting with in his purview in authorizing somebody to come clean up the yard. C can be upset because he didn't want that particular cleanup to happen, but that's a dispute between C and B as to communication and instructions. Dec 14, 2023 at 20:40
  • Just to point out one case that I've seen happen in real life and that is probably not on anyone's mind: our company had this happen when our neighbor company hired someone to pick up two defective forklifts. It turns out that both companies had the same 4 digit PIN code, and the third party entered our premises instead of the actual client's premises next door, taking the only two working forklifts that were parked near the gate (it looked as if they had been left there for pickup). In this case, no one had any bad intentions, and therefore no one was guilty of a crime.
    – Flater
    Dec 14, 2023 at 22:25
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Person 'A' entered the property in good faith and took goods that they thought they had permission to take. Under the circumstances, neither would appear to be a crime and certainly neither would be prosecuted since A could simply offer that as their defence and be relatively certain of a jury acquittal.

As regards the property itself, A has a legal obligation to return it to Person C, the rightful owner. Failing to do so would be a crime, per the Theft Act (1968).

Where a person gets property by another’s mistake, and is under an obligation to make restoration (in whole or in part) of the property or its proceeds or of the value thereof, then to the extent of that obligation the property or proceeds shall be regarded (as against him) as belonging to the person entitled to restoration, and an intention not to make restoration shall be regarded accordingly as an intention to deprive that person of the property or proceeds.

Even if you paid money for property that turned out to be stolen, your beef isn't with the rightful owner, it's with Person B, who tricked you into paying for those goods falsely.

If no money changed hands, then probably the police would decline to investigate entirely since 'A' and 'C' have only been slightly inconvenienced by the whole affair.

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  • I asked that question. My email and text clearly says that we can take the semi brake drums and chains from the dumpster. Text also gives us permission to remove two tool boxes that were taken off a truck. The text also gives me the code to the gate. They charged me with burglary and theft and I now have a active warrant for my arrest. I would think that the text giving us the code would squash the probable cause affidavit. Rite? Obviously someone that works there give it to us. This is crazy.
    – Jimbo3769
    Dec 30, 2023 at 3:16
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    @Jimbo3769 - You need to speak to a real lawyer.
    – Richard
    Dec 30, 2023 at 3:19
  • They have me in a corner. I have 21 accounts that I pick up pallets and scrap from. My truck broke down and my girlfriend had heart surgery. For at least a month or so I have not had a way to work at all. I'm broke and I can already see what lies ahead here. No money means sitting in jail for a long time with a public defender and no way to produce the evidence I have to squash the affidavit. My girlfriend at home after surgery. No rent paid ect. This is very very bad situation. I don't know what to do to tell you the truth. I just don't know.
    – Jimbo3769
    Dec 30, 2023 at 4:47
  • I was thinking maybe I could print out the emails and text messages and send a letter to the judge with the attachment. We would go there every Saturday morning for two months straight and get scrap drums and chains. It even says in the probable cause affidavit that we are there on multiple occasions. Each time I exit the vehicle and type the code in and the gate opens. We back up to the dumpster and load the scrap drums and chains. Take our time. No rush. I would think there is All kinds of signs says we're not stealing.1). Gate code 2). only loading drums and chains from dumpster
    – Jimbo3769
    Dec 30, 2023 at 4:56
  • 3.) Eight cameras totally visible, no liscense plate removed to hide who we are.4). In no hurry 5). Returning multiple times 6). Security guard is inside and waved at us a couple times. 7). The obvious that someone gave us the code there. It's just so unbelievable that it makes me sick to my stomach. One more thing. There is always lots of scrap in the dumpster and we only take the chains and drums as we were told, leaving the rest. If we were stealing, I'm pretty sure we would load up big time.
    – Jimbo3769
    Dec 30, 2023 at 4:57

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