There are several possible legal defenses that may apply in theft cases, even if the underlying facts support the claim that the defendant took property from another party without permission. For instance, the alleged theft could have stemmed from an honest misunderstanding of ownership or it could have been under duress. As with any criminal case, it depends on the specific facts.
Theft is also referred to as "larceny" in several jurisdictions. Assuming that a taking of property by the individual accused did occur, here are a few of the more typical theft defenses that may apply to your case.
Claim of Right or Ownership of Property
An individual who's accused of stealing property may have a valid defense if they're able to establish that they had a good faith belief the property they took was theirs or that they had a valid claim to it. Although a somewhat straightforward defense, it's not as simple as just claiming "I thought it was mine." Typically a defendant will need to provide evidence supporting their claim.
It may be possible to successfully defend theft charges if a defendant can establish that they were intoxicated at the time the alleged theft occurred. When an individual is intoxicated by alcohol, chemicals, or drugs, they may be unable to form the required intent to steal, they may have a viable intoxication defense.
For instance, if you're charged with theft after mistakenly taking someone's expensive leather coat (thinking it was yours) because you were too drunk to notice, you may have a valid defense. However, you still would need to provide proof. Also, remember that public intoxication can also be a criminal offense of its own.
Return of Property as a Theft Defense
People may wonder if returning stolen property can provide a defense to theft or prevent criminal charges. Returning stolen property generally doesn't provide a defense to a charge of theft. However, returning the property can make you appear more sympathetic to a prosecutor for purposes of a possible plea deal. Returning the stolen items may also help with reducing the penalties.
A different and viable defense may exist if a defendant can establish they had the intent to return the property at the time it was taken and actually could do so. It's fairly common to defend theft charges by claiming the property was just being "borrowed." Similarly, you may be able to defend against theft charges if you simply forgot to return something you borrowed.
The defense of entrapment applies when an individual commits a crime but was induced to do so by someone. In a theft case, the entrapment defense could apply if the idea or intent to steal came from the entrapping person, (the entrapment victim is lured into committing the theft), all to apprehend and prosecute the targeted individual.
Let an Attorney Help You With Your Theft Defense
If you're shopping and you accidentally take merchandise to the bathroom or put a store item in your purse, you can easily be charged with theft. Theft defenses range from innocent mistakes to intoxication to entrapment, but none are valuable if you don't plead them in the right way at the right time. So if you've been charged with theft or another criminal offense, you should immediately contact an experienced, local defense lawyer.