Alaska Appeals Court Tosses Theft Conviction on Coupon Technicality

January 12, 2015

A coupon for stolen merchandise has prompted the Alaska Court of Appeals to throw out a theft conviction.

Donald Lynn Henson was convicted of stealing fishing equipment and motor oil from the Fred Meyer store in Soldotna in 2011. He was sentenced to three years in prison.

The appeals court ruled Friday a coupon would have reduced the price of the stolen items to below the threshold for a felony, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

Henson took $510.46 worth of merchandise, but a coupon would have allowed him to purchase the items for less than $500, the opinion said.

The minimum amount for a felony second-degree theft charge is $500. Less than that is a misdemeanor.

The judge handling the case was wrong to not instruct the jury on the definition of market value, the opinion said.

During the trial, Henson’s attorney disputed the value of the merchandise.

“To support this claim, Henson (through his lawyer) elicited testimony that anybody who had a Fred Meyer ‘rewards card,’ including Henson, was eligible for a special coupon and could have purchased the items at a discounted price for less than $500,” the opinion said. “He also elicited testimony that comparable items might be available for less at other stores in the area or online.”

The appeals court explained in the opinion that the value of property is “the amount at which the property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller.”

Henson’s case goes back to Superior Court in Kenai for a new trial, at the discretion of the district attorney, whose office couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on Saturday.

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