W.Va. Supreme Court Justices Uphold Mazzone Ruling

The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals last week affirmed that Ohio County Circuit Judge James Mazzone was correct in affixing the single larceny doctrine in the theft trial of Gina Marie Jerrome.

In March, 2013, a jury convicted Jerrome of a single count of grand larceny after the state proved that on Dec. 8, 2012, Jerrome stole cell phones and other items from the purses of several patrons at a nightclub in Wheeling.

Defense lawyer Mark D. Panepinto asked the high court to dismiss the single felony charge in lieu of separate misdemeanor charges because the thefts were from separate purses belonging to different victims.

With Mazzone’s pre-trial ruling, the prosecution was allowed to combine the financial value of the stolen items into one sum, which exceeded the grand larceny threshold of $1,000.

Mazzone sentenced Jerrome to one-to-15 years in prison.

In a 25-page decision, Chief Justice Robin Jean Davis wrote that the case gives rise to two syllabus points of law.

“The theft of property from different owners at the same time and place may constitute one larceny,” she wrote. “When considering whether the theft of several items of property from multiple victims constitutes one larceny under the single larceny doctrine, the controlling factor is whether the separate takings were part of a single scheme or continuing course of conduct. If so, the values of the property may be aggregated to determine the grade of the offense.”

The second point is “the owner of stolen property may offer evidence of its value, at the time and place of the crime based upon the property’s fair market value. In addition to fair market value, other ways of showing the value of stolen property include the purchase price, replacement cost, or the owner’s reasonable belief as to its value. The weight to be given the owner’s testimony as to the value of the property is for the trier of fact to decide.”

The latter point frees the prosecution and defense of the burden of producing an expert witness to place a financial value of stolen items.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Allen H. Loughry II pointed to another Ohio County case over which Mazzone presided to highlight what he called the guiding principle in the court’s decision.

That case involved Brent Levi McGilton, who was convicted of malicious assault for stabbing his estranged wife several times in November 2009 on Wheeling Island.

Loughry said in that case, also, the court was faced with the same issue of whether a defendant may be convicted of multiple offenses of malicious assault for each stab wound inflicted even when the offenses were part of the same course of conduct.

Mazzone declined to comment on the ruling because it remains subject to review for 30 days.