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Bait Purses and Bait Wallets

Las Vegas Criminal Defense Attorney

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department has an ongoing bait purse and wallet sting operation that they run in many of the local Las Vegas casinos, which was detailed in a 2013 Las Vegas Review Journal article titled “Tourist Crimes Unit Busts Purse Snatchers”.

Their aim is to combat the rise in tourist-related crimes and to make sure that visitors feel safe when they come to Las Vegas. However, these sting operations have the potential to ensnare not just the guilty but also the unwitting Good Samaritan.

The sting operation goes something like this: Officers first place a specific amount of pre-recorded US currency (and oftentimes also a high-value cell phone if it’s a purse) along with other contents that would tend to readily identify the owner such as a driver’s license and player’s cards. They then place the purse or the wallet on an empty seat at one of the gaming machines inside of a casino and stand by in plain clothes waiting for a person to come by and pick up the purse or wallet.

Once a person picks up the purse or wallet, officers watch to see whether the person makes any attempts to return it. The officers are supposed to wait until the person clearly removes items from the purse or wallet or until they have passed up every possible opportunity to return the purse or wallet before moving in to arrest them.

Potential Penalties

Once arrested, the person will be charged with the crime of Grand Larceny, which is either a category B or C felony depending on the value of the purse or wallet’s contents.

If the value of the property is over $650 but less than $3,500, then the person would be charged with a category C felony, which carries a potential sentence of 1 to 5 years in the Nevada Department of Corrections and a fine of up to $10,000 (NRS 205.222.2). This is a probationable offense.

If the value of the property is over $3,500, then the person would be charged with a category B felony, which carries a potential sentence of 1 to 10 years in the Nevada Department of Corrections and a fine of up to $10,000 (NRS 205.222.3). This is also a probationable offense.

Please see my page on Grand Larceny for more information on this offense.

Proving Intent

Many of the police reports will claim that the person’s intent to steal could be easily ascertained from facts like:

  • The person didn’t give the purse or wallet to a cocktail waitress who came by to drop off a drink; or
  • The person passed the last possible place within the casino where they would have been able to return the purse or wallet; or
  • The person stopped to use the restroom before attempting to return the purse or wallet.

Defenses

However, one of the biggest problems with this line of reasoning is that officers are making a lot of assumptions without having all of the facts. Take for instance a person’s failure to give the purse or wallet to a passing cocktail waitress as evidence of guilt. What if the person just didn’t think that handing a purse or wallet to a person who is in heels while balancing a tray of heavy drinks and wearing a skimpy outfit with no pockets was a good idea? What if that person instead thought security would be best equipped to handle the matter?

When police say that a person has passed all possible opportunities to return the purse, this assumes that the person is familiar enough with the casino to know where to return the purse and it also assumes that all of these casinos have clearly marked entries and exits when many of these casinos instead have large open entries that just lead from one part of the building to another or perhaps connect to an adjoining property. Casinos are designed with the intentional purpose of making people feel lost and turned around. The logic is simple – if you don’t know where you’re going, then you will continue wandering around aimlessly and eventually you will just give up and go back to gambling. It is incredibly easy to lose track of time and direction when you are inside one of these large properties.

Additionally, the police are oftentimes making a lot of assumptions about a person’s intent just by virtue of the person stepping into the restroom before going to return the purse or wallet. They make these assumptions without knowing anything about the person’s medical history, how many drinks they have had, or when they last used the bathroom. What if the person has been playing at the slot machines for two hours and had six drinks during that time? What if the person suffers from a bladder infection or irritable bowel syndrome or some other medical condition that makes them have to use the restroom more frequently than the average person?

Police are always careful to make sure that the purse or wallet has the necessary value to fulfill the statutory requirement. But what happens when the person only takes the cash, which totals $660, and they leave the rest of the purse and its contents, which includes the high-value iPhone and any other items that the police had planned to use in order to charge the person with the category B felony?

In these instances, the prosecutor would have a very difficult time trying to convict the person of the category B felony because the person’s actions clearly demonstrated that they only intended to take the $660 in cash. So already the charge would be reduced from a category B felony to a category C felony.

Favorable negotiations are very common with these types of cases, which is true even in situations where a person is on camera clearly removing money from the purse or wallet and then putting it into their pocket or in cases where a person admits to police after being properly Mirandized that they intended to take the purse or wallet and never return it.

Retain the help of a proven Las Vegas criminal defense attorney at Ferris Law. Call (702) 710-8882.

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