Whether a person named as a joint owner of an account can be guilty of stealing from it was just addressed by Maryland’s intermediate appellate court in a case called Jacqueline Wagner v. State of Maryland.

The Court’s opinion indicates that after Mr. Wagner’s wife passed away, he asked his daughter Jacqueline to assist him in managing his money.  He testified that he had her name added to his checking/savings account so that someone else could get the money if he could not do so himself.   The Defendant admitted at trial that her name was added on the account in case anything happened to her father.

In the following years, the evidence was that the victim took out a mortgage in order to help his daughter’s business, which he believed was a loan. After his home was damaged by a fire, he moved in with the Defendant. He then learned that the mortgage had not been paid on his home, and was then shocked to learn that there was no money left in his bank account. He testified at trial that his daughter took over $160,000 of his money from this joint account without his permission. The Defendant admitted at trial that she did take some funds from this account for her own use, but also claimed she would withdraw funds to give her father that he needed for gambling.

At trial, the defense position was that since this was a joint bank account, as a legal matter a joint account holder could not be guilty of theft of funds. The trial judge convicted the defendant of theft and embezzlement, and she appealed. The appellate Court noted that by statute, unless an account agreement says otherwise, funds in a multiparty account may be withdrawn by any party to the account. However, the Court found that this provision only governs the relationship with the bank and ability to access funds, but does not resolve who is the owner of the funds.

The Court found that in this case, the evidence clearly showed that the victim was the sole owner of the money,  that he was the person with an interest in the property without whose consent the offender had no authority to exert control over the property. The Defendant had therefore committed theft under the law, when she obtained unauthorized control over the funds with the intent to deprive the owner of his property.

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