Last year, we wrote about a case where a daughter was charged and convicted of theft for taking money out of an account on which she was a joint owner with her father and using that money for herself. The daughter was convicted of theft in the trial court, and on appeal to the Court of Special Appeals, the conviction was affirmed.
The Court of Appeals, Maryland’s highest court, agreed to hear the case and just handed-down its decision. In a lengthy 4 – 3 decision, the court affirmed both lower courts in rejecting the daughter’s argument that she could not be convicted of theft for taking money from an account in her name. It held,
“that: (I) the evidence was sufficient to support the conviction for theft where the individual willfully or knowingly obtained or exerted unauthorized control over funds—belonging to another—contained in a joint bank account without the other’s knowledge or consent and with the intent to deprive the other of those funds; statutorily granted authority permitting a party to a joint or multiple-party account to access and withdraw funds in the account does not confer ownership of the funds in the account to that party such that, as a matter of law, the party cannot be guilty of theft; and (II) the evidence was sufficient to support the conviction for embezzlement (fraudulent misappropriation by fiduciary).”
The dissent argued that the decision interferes with family relationships, and could allow a parent to criminalize behavior that had been approved simply because of a change in the parent-child relationship.
A warning to the wise. If you have a joint bank account with another person, you may want to consider having something in writing that addresses whether the funds in the account are truly owned by each account owner, or whether access of one or more account owners is limited to using the funds for another owner’s benefit. Such an agreement would clarify for all parties the nature of the relationship so that no misunderstandings, or criminal cases, will result.