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Appeal Fails in Forgery of MetroCard

I love this sort of story:

Jonathan Mattocks was arrested in October 2005 in the subway station at 125th Street and Lexington Avenue in Harlem and charged with doing just that. Police officers reported seeing him pick up used MetroCards from the floor, bend them and then use them to swipe riders through the turnstiles in exchange for cash. In his pockets were 14 bent MetroCards and three $1 bills.

Mr. Mattocks, who had a record of transit-related offenses, was convicted of a felony, possession of a forged instrument, and sentenced to two to four years in prison.

On appeal, his defense lawyers made a novel argument. They conceded that Mr. Mattocks broke the law, but said that he should have been charged with a misdemeanor, unauthorized sale of transportation services, rather than forgery.

Bending a MetroCard does not make it “falsely altered” — as the law defines forgery — “because the damage does not create value on a worthless card, it merely prevents the turnstile computer from determining that the card has no value,” the defense lawyers maintained . . .

More details here (starting at the bottom of page 2).

P.S. Just to clarify: what I thought was funny was the legal argument. I don’t think it’s funny that this guy is getting two to four years in prison. That just sounds horrible.

4 Comments

  1. Jeremy Miles says:

    Can you enlighten the non-New Yorkers amongst us about the significance of the bending?

  2. I don't think it's funny that this guy is getting two to four years in prison. That just sounds horrible.

    No, what's horrible is what this guy told the police once he was in custody. "You better watch your back. I'm gonna serve three months. When I come out, you better just shoot me in the head, because I'm going to kill you." (pp 4-5 of the opinion) I suspect that remark had some influence on the district attorney.

  3. Andrew Gelman says:

    Jeremy: No big deal about the bending. It's just a trick to steal rides. I just was amused by the convoluted legal argument: "because the damage does not create value on a worthless card, it merely prevents the turnstile computer from determining that the card has no value."

    Mike: Wow. I didn't notice that; I'd only read to page 3 of the opinion.

  4. zbicyclist says:

    Harsh. He's basically done the equivalent of using slugs to get a vending machine to give him free candy. He's stealing $1.80 at a time (I'm not a New Yorker, so that's probably off) — and he's allowed to do so because the subway system has a pitifully inadequate design.

    In contrast, a co-worker has a son in a fraternity. A frat brother was borrowing ATM cards, putting a hood over his face, and using the card. The card owner would then report it stolen and they would split the money, usually $200. This was done 14 times this year before he got caught.

    The perpetrator got PROBATION; the other frat boys got nothing. (I can't give a web link because there was no story written.)

    I understand what Mike Anderson is pointing out — but he wasn't indicted for that, was he?

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