False pretenses, or more properly called "obtaining property by false pretenses," is a crime where someone lies or makes misrepresentations in order to obtain someone else's property. It is closely related to theft (larceny), specifically "larceny-by-trick," but has one important distinction (noted below).
The elements of the crime of false pretenses are:
Basically, if you lie to someone in order to convince them to sell/give you something, and you succeed, then you've committed the crime of false pretenses.
A) You tell someone you will give them $30,000 for their car (a lie). They give you the car and transfer the title to your name, and you never pay.
B) You tell someone that the vase they have is a cheap imitation, and offer to pay $10 for it. The seller believes you, and accepts. You know, however, that it is a Ming vase worth millions.
Note that it is essential that the victim of the false pretense must actually be deceived by the misrepresentation, and the deception must be a major (if not the only) factor of the victim granting title to the lying party. In example B above, for instance, if the seller did not believe you and knew the vase was worth millions, but for some reason really needed that $10 and took your offer anyway, that would not count as false pretenses.
Also, the misrepresentation generally has to be affirmative, unlike in fraudulent misrepresentation (courts differ on this). That is to say, it can't be an omission or a innuendo, it must be a direct declaration. It also cannot be an opinion (i.e. "that vase is probably a fake" would not be sufficient), nor can it be a statement about the future ("this car will run great in 15 years!"). The lie must be about a present or past fact.
Good question. The crime of false pretenses is in fact very similar to both.
Every state has different laws on this topic, and some of the punishments can be very severe. If you've been accused of defrauding someone by false pretenses, it is very important that you contact a criminal defense attorney immediately. This crime has many different elements that all must be proved, so its important to consult with someone who can explain to you how best to present your case.
Last Modified: 10-16-2017 04:19 AM PDTLaw Library Disclaimer
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