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A Dallas, Texas father was acquitted of theft charges after he confiscated his daughter's phone. Ronald Jackson was facing misdemeanor theft charges for taking his 12-year-old daughter's cell phone in September 2013 after finding inappropriate texts on the phone.
Those are the standard facts of the case and that's the easy way to write it up: "Stern dad vindicated by jury." But oh, you'd miss all of the juiciest details.
Let's talk a minute about Michelle Steppe, mother of the child at issue. Michelle is the one who called the police when the phone was taken away, and does not share the father's views on discipline. "As a mom," she told the jury, "I'm upset because -- number one -- the property belongs to me."
Michelle and Ronald were never married and are not a couple. And Michelle contends Ronald didn't even become part of his daughter's life until she was seven years old. Also, Michelle is married to a Grand Prairie police officer.
In a shocking coincidence, it was Grand Prairie police officers who made several unsuccessful attempts to retrieve the phone and it was Grand Prairie that originally charged Ronald with theft (although the city attorney's office requested his case be removed and re-filed with the Dallas County District Attorney's office as a more stringent Class B misdemeanor, punishable by six months in jail and a $2,000 fine).
Theories of Theft
Michelle also has some interesting thoughts on the legal theory: "You can't take someone's property, regardless if you're a parent or not," she allegedly told the jury. But their verdict may have changed her opinion. "Even if you purchase something with your own money and have a receipt, it's not yours," she told Dallas's WFAA. "Someone can take it from you."
Well, one of two things may have happened here. Either the jury relied on the Texas penal code's definition of "Effective consent" as including consent "by a person legally authorized to act for the owner," and decided that Ronald was authorized to act for either Michelle or his daughter. Or they just didn't feel like convicting a dad trying to protect his little girl. Jury nullification is a thing, y'all.