Rick Case Versus the TSA: Is Failing to Return Something the Same as Stealing?

Defense attorney Leland Garvin may take Puddie's case to trial.
Defense attorney Leland Garvin may take Puddie's case to trial.

Say you're a defense lawyer. How do you prepare to try a case in which your client signed away his Miranda rights and confessed to a crime?

In the case of Toussain Puddie, the TSA screener who took home Rick Case's pen (detailed in our most recent cover story), denying guilt pretty much isn't an option. Lawyer Leland Garvin says that at this time, he doesn't plan on moving to suppress the page or so of interview transcript in which Puddie basically says he took the pen.

But Puddie's guilt could still hinge on how that's interpreted -- and what a jury makes of the fact that he didn't find out who owned the pen until afterward.

The case might go to trial if Garvin and Puddie do not end up accepting a deal that was offered by the state, in which Puddie would plead guilty, write a letter of apology, and go on probation for a year. The endgame to that option is a long series of legal fees, bureaucratic hoops, and applications that could result in a judge's expunging Puddie's criminal record.

If the case goes to trial, Garvin is hoping that a jury would sympathize with Puddie as he broke down in the interrogation room, openly admitting that he had taken the pen.

"Yeah. I had the pen."

"OK, and why did you not return it at that time?"

"I was scared."

"Have you ever done anything like this before?"


"Can you tell me why you did this?"

"I don't know. The pen is a, the pen is, the pen is a g... nice pen."

As our story was being written, Garvin was reading up on case law about grand theft. The definition of the crime requires an intent to knowingly deprive someone of his or her property. But Puddie didn't know who the pen belonged to when he took it -- it was just an anonymous lost object. But as you can see above, he admitted to keeping it after he did learn that someone was looking for it.

So can theft be retroactive and apply to keeping something? The verb the law uses is acquire. If one can knowingly acquire something by failing to return it, that could lend weight to the case against Puddie. 

It's all incredibly complicated for a simple pen. Read the story (possibly the longest ever written about a missing pen) here.

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