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State v. Coats

Supreme Court of Idaho

July 10, 2019

STATE OF IDAHO, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
SHAWN JERRI COATS, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Ada County. Richard D. Greenwood, District Judge.

         The conviction of grand theft is vacated.

          Eric D. Fredericksen, State Appellate Public Defender, Boise, for appellant. Jenevieve C. Swinford argued.

          Lawrence G. Wasden, Idaho Attorney General, Boise, for respondent. Kenneth K. Jorgensen argued.

          Brody, Justice.

         The malicious ingenuity of thieves is boundless. While the Legislature regularly passes new criminal laws in an effort to keep up with new scams in the electronic age, the question presented in this case is whether the State's good, old-fashioned charge of "theft" fits the thief's conduct. Shawn Coats, the defendant, was charged with eight different offenses after he took an elderly man's debit card and deposited fraudulent checks into the man's credit union account to create funds for a multi-day shopping spree at Walmart. After a jury trial, he was convicted of seven of the offenses, including grand theft of retail goods and fraudulent use of a financial transaction card.

         On appeal, Coats contends that the jury did not have substantial evidence to convict him of grand theft of retail goods from an owner because Walmart was paid in full for the goods, and Morgan, the man from whom he obtained the debit card, never owned the purchases. Alternatively, he argues that he was subjected to double jeopardy upon being convicted for both grand theft and fraudulent use of a financial transaction card, because fraudulent use is a lesser included offense of grand theft. We hold that there was not substantial evidence for the conviction of grand theft. While Idaho's theft statute is broad and covers many misdeeds, there must be a careful analysis of what was stolen and from whom before a charging decision is made and the jury is instructed. Because this case will be remanded to the district court with instructions to vacate Coats's conviction on Count 5, we do not reach the merits of Coats's double jeopardy argument.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Shawn Coats learned of Theodore Morgan's financial difficulties while visiting his residence one evening. Offering to help, Coats accompanied Morgan to an ATM late that night and gave Morgan a falsified check for $955 to deposit into his credit union account. Coats stood behind Morgan's shoulder while the check was deposited into the ATM. While they were there, Coats told Morgan that he needed $500 in cash and gave him another falsified check in the amount of $950 to deposit. Coats signed the checks with the name of another account holder and designated the funds as a "loan" to Morgan on the memo line. With around $2, 000 in his once empty credit union account, Morgan withdrew $500 and gave it to Coats.

         Following the ATM transactions, Coats asked Morgan if he could borrow his vehicle for a quick trip across town. Morgan reluctantly agreed and soon retired to bed. However, instead of merely going across town, Coats, armed with the knowledge of Morgan's PIN, took Morgan's debit card and used it to insert more false checks into the credit union account and made multiple purchases over a period of two days at Walmart, totaling approximately $5, 000. After a few days of Coats's fraudulent spending spree, Morgan's credit union recognized the fraudulent activity and shut down the account.

After an investigation, the State arrested and charged Coats with eight offenses:
Count 1: Grand theft (I.C. §§ 18-2403(1), -2407(1)(b)(3), -2409) for wrongfully taking a financial transaction card from Theodore Morgan on or between June 28, 2015, and July 2, 2015;
Count 2: Grand theft (I.C. §§ 18-2403(1), -2407(b)(1), -2409) for wrongfully taking over $1, 000 in cash from Theodore Morgan on or between June 29, 2015, and July 1, 2015;
Count 3: Forgery (I.C. ยง 18-3601) for a check on Kent Stevens's account payable to Ted Morgan in the amount of $975.00 to Mountain American Credit ...

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