Anjali Prasad, a Bloomfield Hills resident and candidate for the local school board, was frustrated that her political yard signs supporting her electoral race were continuously being stolen from her yard in 2018. A police stakeout near her property eventually saw in plain view (and on video) a man enter the property and take two more signs. Police intercepted and questioned the man who was identified as Stuart Sherr, a Bloomfield Hills businessman and elected city commissioner who also served a single term as mayor. Mr. Sherr revealed that there were two more of Ms. Prasad’s political signs in the truck of his Jaguar taken from other locations.
Mr. Sherr had told police that he had removed some of Ms. Prasad’s signs at the urging of other local business owners who objected to having the political signs on their property. However, police interviewed those same business owners who stated they did not advise Mr. Sherr to remove the signs and, in fact, gave Ms. Prasad permission to place the signs there. Mr. Sherr also maintained as his defense that the signs were in violation of a local ordinance that prohibited placement less than 10 feet from the road, but a police officer noted that Mr. Sherr did not disturb two other signs in violation of this ordinance on his way to seize Ms. Prasad’s signs. Mr. Sherr was later charged with misdemeanor larceny.
Eventually, Mr. Sherr pled no contest to misdemeanor theft charges on August 30, 2019 and was sentenced to community service in lieu of fines. This incident attracted unusual high-profile attention, but political sign theft is not uncommon and becoming more prevalent in this increasingly polarized electoral environment. Unlike 20 years ago, we also live in an increasingly videorecorded society where houses and front yards are garrisoned by surveillance cameras and motion-sensor lights. It is simply harder for thieves to get away with stealing signs.
An individual who steals political signs from private or public property will be charged with the crime of larceny. To prove this charge, the prosecutor must prove each of the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt (M Crim JI 23.1):
- First, that the individual took someone else’s property.
- Second, that the property was taken without consent.
- Third, that there was some movement of the property. It does not matter whether the individual actually kept the property or whether the property was taken off the premises. For example, if the political sign was uprooted from the yard and then thrown into the bushes, then a larceny occurred.
- Fourth, that at the time the property was taken, the individual intended to permanently deprive the owner of the property.
A person convicted of larceny can be penalized as follows:
- “If the [political sign] stolen has a value of less than $200.00, the person is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 93 days or a fine of not more than $500.00 or 3 times the value of the property stolen, whichever is greater, or both imprisonment and a fine.” MCL 750.356(5).
- “If… [t]he [political sign] has a value of $200.00 or more but less than $1,000.00… [then] the person is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 1 year or a fine of not more than $2,000.00 or 3 times the value of the property stolen, whichever is greater, or both imprisonment and a fine.” MCL 750.536(4)(a).
- “The values of property stolen in separate incidents pursuant to a scheme or course of conduct within any 12-month period may be aggregated to determine the total value of property stolen.” MCL 750.536(7). This means that a person who steals multiple political signs within a 12-month period can be prosecuted for the aggregate value of all signs, not just each sign individually. If the aggregate value of all signs stolen exceeds $1,000.00, then that person can be charged with a felony offense.
The judge, in lieu of jail, can also order the defendant to serve a period of probation, perform community service, and pay the owner restitution for the value of the signs stolen.
A person accused of stealing political signs needs to get the best defense in their corner right away. The judge and prosecutor will not take this matter lightly, and you shouldn’t either. A skilled criminal defense lawyer can hold the prosecuting attorney to their burden of proof. Even if the evidence against you is strong, a good lawyer can negotiate a favorable outcome that can avoid a jail sentence.
If you or a loved one are accused of any crime and need legal representation, then do not hesitate to contact the experienced attorneys at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC for assistance today.