Defendant Convicted in Petty Theft Case

YoloCourt-27A jury returned a verdict on Wednesday afternoon, after about an hour of deliberation, finding defendant Michael Stephen Schuyler guilty on charges of petty theft.  He was accused of stealing a pair of sneakers from the Big 5 Sporting Goods store at 431 Pioneer Avenue in Woodland in August of 2014.  He now faces two years of probation, jail time, and possible restitution for the shoes.

Petty Theft Trial Hears Evidence

by Jamie Moddelmog

The trial of Michael Stephen Schuyler began in Yolo County Superior Court in front of a pre-selected jury and Judge Janene Beronio on Tuesday.  Mr. Schuyler was charged with petty theft after he allegedly stole a pair of sneakers from the Big 5 Sporting Goods store at 431 Pioneer Avenue in Woodland.

The incident occurred on August 22, 2014, when Mr. Schuyler went to Big 5 to buy a pair of sneakers that he believed would be $20 or less.  He believed this based on an advertisement that he had seen in a local newspaper.  He put the shoes on in the store and went to pay for them at the front of the store.  When the box was scanned, the price was a few dollars over $20.  Mr. Schuyler then allegedly walked angrily out of the store with the new shoes on and his old shoes in the box, refusing to pay.

The Big 5 manager, “NZ,” who witnessed the incident, called 911.  Another associate kept an eye on Mr. Schuyler, who was walking around the shopping complex and across the street to the Sundance Car Wash.  Woodland Police Officer Richard Wright showed up at the Sundance Car Wash and made eye contact with Schuyler.  He then saw Schuyler go hide behind a tree with a shoe box, then he called him over and detained him.

Mr. Schuyler’s attorney explained that the defendant had attempted to a buy a pair of shoes prior to the ones he took out of the store, and found that they were not under $20 even though they were in the section labeled “under $20.”  He picked out another pair from the “under $20” section, and found once again that the shoes were over $20, costing $23.97.  Schuyler then allegedly said “f— this s—” and threw a $20 bill on the counter in front of the cashier and then walked out of the store wearing the shoes.

In her witness testimony, NZ claimed that Mr. Schuyler never put a $20 bill on the counter and that, if he had made any form of payment, she would have accepted it.  She testified that Schuyler wanted clarification as to why the shoes cost over twenty dollars. When they told him that the shoes may have been placed in the section by mistake, he got angry and walked out.  As Schuyler walked out of the store, NZ told him that he had to either pay for the shoes or leave them, but he ignored her and kept walking.  She said she was confident he heard her and confident he knew that he was wearing the shoes at the time.

Mr. Schuyler claimed that, even though he had paid the $20, he realized he had not handled himself properly and decided to go back into the store and return the shoes.  He decided this once he had already walked across Pioneer Avenue and was at the Sundance Car Wash.  That was when he saw Officer Wright.  He claimed he did not hide behind a tree, he simply may have been out of view of Officer Wright.  He put on his old shoes and put the new shoes back in the box.

He was called over by Officer Wright and detained. Wright retrieved the shoe box from behind the tree and called NZ from across the street to identify Mr. Schuyler as the man she believed had stolen from the store.  His identity was confirmed.  NZ also sent an associate back to the store with the shoe box to print out a receipt for it.  The receipt proved that the shoes did in fact cost $23.97 and that they were from Big 5.

In his witness testimony, Officer Wright claimed that Mr. Schuyler, in his statement at the scene, did not say anything to him about paying $20 to Big 5, nor did he say anything about deciding to return the shoes.  He said that if Schuyler had said anything about giving money to Big 5, he would have gone to the store to verify it.  He also claimed that Mr. Schuyler actually stated that he had taken the shoes without paying for them, but that he had a lot of money in his wallet and would be willing to pay for them then.

Mr. Schuyler said he did not recall whether he said that to Officer Wright and did not remember any of his statement.  He said he just “told him what was going on.”

Officer Wright testified that he talked to Mr. Schuyler for between 30 and 45 minutes.  He claimed that Schuyler was very distraught and angry when he first began talking to him, but after around 20 minutes he had significantly calmed down.  It was at that time that Schuyler was Mirandized and had his statement taken.

Mr. Schuyler ultimately admitted that he did not have the consent of NZ to take the shoes, but he did not need it, because he had paid $20 and the shoes were advertised to cost $20.  Yet he still maintained that he was en route to return the shoes, when Officer Wright called him over, because he had “handled himself poorly.”  He also said that the $20 bill might have fallen off of the counter out of sight of the employees.

The prosecution objected to the mention of the advertisement that led Mr. Schuyler to believe that the shoes were under $20, saying that it was hearsay to use the advertisement as evidence proving a fact. The fact in question was whether the shoes were actually supposed to be $20, and the prosecution claimed that it would be classified as hearsay to say that they were, based on the advertisement and the labels on the display, and that any mention of that evidence should be stricken.

The defense claimed that the ad and display label merely pertain to the defendant’s state of mind as he entered the store – that he was going to be able to buy shoes for $20 or less. Judge Beronio ruled in the prosecution’s favor and all mention of the advertisement or the display label was stricken from the record.

All of the evidence in the Schuyler case has been presented. The jury will be given instructions on how to come to a verdict on the case, and will hear closing statements on the case tomorrow at 1:30 PM in Department 9 of Yolo County Superior Court.


Closing Arguments for Petty Theft Case

by Jade Wolansky

The prosecution and defense presented their final arguments on the Michael Stephen Schuyler petty theft trial on July 27, 2016.

Before closing summations were made, Judge Janene Beronio informed the jury of California Penal Code sections 484 and 490.5. In order to be charged with petty theft, the prosecution must prove that the defendant:

  • Took possession of property owned by someone else.
  • The defendant took the property without the agent’s consent.
  • When the defendant took the property he intended to remove it from the agent’s possession for so extended a period of time that the owner would be deprived of a major portion of the value or enjoyment of the property.
  • The defendant moved the property, even a small distance, and kept it for any period of time, however brief.

Judge Beronio stated that the jury must be certain beyond reasonable doubt in their deliberations on Schuyler’s guilt or innocence.

The prosecution began their closing argument with a review of the incident. Allegedly, the defendant failed to present any form of payment for the pair of shoes he had brought up to the front of the store. If he had presented $20 as the defense had argued, the store manager would have noticed. In addition, the defendant would have stated immediately to Officer Wright that the theft accusation made against him was a mistake.

The prosecution listed the reasons that would prove the defendant guilty of petty theft: Schuyler walked out of the store with property that obviously belonged to Big 5; he had stated in his testimony that he did not have the agent’s consent to take the property; and he told to the store manager he would not pay for the shoes. When he subsequently walked outside, Schuyler also lowered the value of the shoes. Lastly, the defendant had fled from the store, hid behind a tree and failed to appear in court. The prosecution argued that Schuyler’s failed court appearance proved consciousness of guilt.

The defense countered that the jury should focus on the defendant’s intent. He stated that Schuyler had thrown down $20 and that, in his anger, had not known where the money had ended up.  The attorney argued that Schuyler had the intention to pay for the shoes.

After that, the defense recounted Officer Wright’s testimony, reminding the jury that Officer Wright had admitted that his memory of the incident was unclear because it had happened two years ago.

Schuyler’s attorney also suggested that the defendant’s anger over the shoe price could have led him to be unclear in his statements.

He argued that only Schuyler himself can confirm that he had presented $20. The defense asked the jury if they accept that the $20 was presented as payment. He returned to his emphasis on intent and that Schuyler believed that the money was adequate payment.

The defense returned to the alleged facts of the incident. Schuyler had not run, but had walked to the parking lot. He mentioned that even the Big 5 store manager found the defendant’s behavior inconsistent with that of other store thieves. The defense suggested that the defendant may have changed his mind when he had reached the parking lot. After leaving the store and reaching the parking lot, Schuyler had taken off the new shoes, placed them in their box and put back on his old shoes. The attorney suggested Schuyler could have had the intention to return the new shoes.

The defense argued that the defendant’s failed court appearances alone do not prove guilt. He may have had a reason to be absent for prior appearances. Even if he did not, he was present at today’s trial.

Closing summations ended with the prosecution refuting the defense’s arguments. The prosecution stated that the store manager never agreed to accept $20 as payment. The prosecution then compared the incident to an individual going to a car dealership. The attorney stated that simply throwing down money is not sufficient proof of payment.

After an hour, the jury deliberated and found the defendant guilty.

Schuyler was charged with petty theft of merchandise and will face a two-year probation. He was also given a $255 fine and jail time, is banned from entering the Big 5 Woodland location, and will face a possible restitution fee for the shoes. Judge Beronio advised Schuyler that he could speak with the bailiff on an alternative program in place of jail time.

Schuyler hesitated for a moment and consulted with his attorney before confirming that he understood, agreed and would abide by all the conditions of his probation.

About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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17 Comments

  1. Davis Progressive

    this case is troubling.  first of all, the crime took place in august 2014 – two years ago.

    second, “The defense claimed that the ad and display label merely pertain to the defendant’s state of mind as he entered the store–that he was going to be able to buy shoes for $20 or less.  Judge Beronio ruled in the prosecution’s favor and all mention of the advertisement or the display label was stricken from the record.”

    why would you exclude the fact that the store is doing bait and switch here?  it may not excuse the theft, but it might impact how you view intent here.

    1. Barack Palin

      My my how we try and excuse bad behavior.  The clerk says he never paid the $20 and imo he only claimed to be returning the shoes because he got caught.  Who hasn’t brought an item to a cashier and found that the price was higher than you thought?  The difference is you didn’t then walk out of the store with the item without paying.

        1. South of Davis

          In Woodland (that has an 8.25% sales tax rate 25bps lower than Davis) the $19.99 shoes would cost $21.64.

          P.S. It looks like the County spent thousands of dollars on this case over the last two years.  It seems like we could save a lot of money and clear out the courts if we would just pay Big 5 $100 to drop the charges and let the guy keep the shoes.

      1. Davis Progressive

        it’s not about excusing behavior, it’s about dealing with the behavior in a most cost effective and proportional way.  taking something to trial for probation is a waste of time and money.

        1. Barack Palin

          Did you write that in your original post?  No, but now you try and say that’s what it’s about.  Then you should’ve stated that.

          That said, what’s the cutoff between a case that should be prosecuted and a case that shouldn’t?  Should we let all criminals know that they can steal a certain amount and never be prosecuted?

           

  2. Frankly

    I like to connect the dots for the opinions of people having different political leanings.

    It gets me back to validating Johnathan Haidt’s work on moral filters:  liberals tending to filter on harm and fairness over everything else… and conservatives having a more varied moral diet that includes sanctity of law.

    That is the difference I see here.   I have a problem with stealing.  I think all of it needs to be prosecuted.  Stealing is wrong.  Immoral.  Against the law.  We should have zero tolerance for it.

    But my friends on the left can make a quick victim out of a thief if that thief is a member of a victim class or a Democrat politician.  Then they start to filter on harm and fairness… that this person should not be held to the same law standards as say a successful white conservative male that tends to speak his mind instead of what makes liberals feel good.

    What is fascinating about this tendency is that the liberal that tends to cry for equality is in fact the most unequal when it comes to criminal justice.

    1. Davis Progressive

      i think you are missing a crucial nexus here.  conservatives may favor sanctity of life – although increasingly there is a growing legion of conservative criminal justice reforms.  here’s the problem i have with your view – you mention “harm” and “fairness” but not cost.  stealing is wrong.  but at what cost are you willing to enforce that.  that’s what’s missing from your calculation.  and even that still misses the next question – we can agree stealing bad, we can factor in cost into the equation, but you still have the final piece – most effective punishment.  you assume that the current system is most effective, why?

  3. Davis Progressive

    but what if instead of taking two years to take the guy to trial only to come away with probation, you instead have a restorative system where he has to make the wrong “right” – either by working off the cost of the stolen merchandise or other agreed upon outcomes?  then you have a system that is cost effective, still creates a disincentive to steal and maybe is more effective at convincing him not to commit another crime?  that’s a win-win for all involved.

    1. Miwok

      This is not a resolution and does not stop the person from stealing again. And I think back to every time I have been ripped off, car thefts, home burglaries, over the years, and how I don’t get a good night’s sleep most nights when things go bump.

      This “restorative” thing is nothing I want part of, unless you line up my thief and I get to deal with them the way I want to.

  4. ryankelly

    This is where a police officer could have walked him back to the store to return the shoes and made him apologize.  Instead, there is a trial involving several highly paid lawyers and a judge and participation by a jury to determine that he should’ve either returned the shoes or paid the full price for them.

  5. tayohh16

    I was actually at the courthouse on July 25th for Jury duty and was almost on this jury but I got dismissed along with quite a few other people for responding that we thought this was quite a big hoopla for a petty theft complaint. I agree I wish this had been handled outside of the courts.

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