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Theft: Are you stealing or borrowing? Your intentions matter

On Behalf of | Apr 2, 2019 | Criminal Defense

Theft is something most people are familiar with. At its core, it’s taking something that doesn’t belong to you without another person’s permission. Theft might be from a friend or family member. It might be from a store or employer.

Legally, theft is defined as taking someone else’s property with the intention of depriving them of that property permanently. With this legal definition, it’s possible to get theft charges dropped or reduced if you can show that you did intend to return the item to the person to whom it belonged.

Here’s a good example of the difference between a theft case and case of a misunderstanding. If John decides to borrow paint from a classroom and intends to return it the next day, he should not be accused of stealing from the school. However, if John plans to take the supplies and does not plan to bring them back or ask for permission to keep them, then he can be charged with theft.

Are there different kinds of theft?

Yes, there are different types of theft that you can be accused of. Petty theft is generally charged when the value of the property is under $500 to $1,000. Grand theft, on the other hand, takes place when you steal property over the petty theft limit. In some jurisdictions, grand theft auto is the charge assigned when someone steals a vehicle.

What should you do if you’re charged with theft but you didn’t intend to steal?

There are times when people are accused of theft but they didn’t intend to steal. For example, someone who isn’t paying much attention might pack up their supplies in a classroom and accidentally pick up someone else’s phone. If they didn’t know they had it or intended to return it the next day, then it wouldn’t be theft.

However, if that same person saw the phone and wanted it for themselves, then it’s possible that they could be accused of theft. This would be more likely if others could be witnesses to the theft or had information about the person wanting to take the phone from the victim.

In each of these cases, intentions matter. Those who are accused should always have the right to defend themselves and to seek support in doing so. Their actions may have appeared to be something they’re not, and they deserve a chance to explain and defend their reputations.

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Attorney Harvey S Lutins