What Defense Should You Use When Charged With Theft?
With over 670,000 thefts occurring each year, property crime is one of the most common types of crime. Despite being incredibly common, theft can actually be a little tricky to prosecute. There are several very effective defenses for a theft charge.
You Weren’t Able to Commit the Crime
Ideally, if you did not commit the crime, you would be able to present an alibi to the police and avoid charges in the first place. However, this doesn’t always happen in the real world. If you did not commit the crime, one of the first steps your Morristown criminal defense lawyer may take is looking for proof you couldn’t have committed the crime. Finding evidence that you were not in the right place at the right time can be tricky. Your lawyer may do things like ask your neighbors for any doorbell security footage or contact a toll company for a receipt. Being able to present clear proof you were not able to access the item at the time of the theft can be an excellent defense against theft charges in New Jersey.
Someone Else Committed the Crime
Another common defense for theft charges is to show that someone else could have taken the item. Pointing the finger at someone else isn’t necessarily about trying to do the police’s job for them or attempting to frame an innocent person. Instead, it is about bringing reasonable doubt to the charges. For example, if you and another person were both in the room when an expensive watch was stolen, it’s reasonable to bring up the fact that the other person could’ve done it. Anything that makes the jury realize there is no definitive proof you were the one to commit the crime can be very useful for your case.
You Took the Property Accidentally
To be convicted of theft, the prosecution must show that you purposefully took an item that wasn’t yours with the intent to deprive the rightful owner of the property. Therefore, a valid defense that your lawyer for theft charges may use is that the whole thing was an accident. A common way that someone could accidentally take another person’s property is if they were mixed up. For example, someone who grabbed the wrong coat when leaving a party wouldn’t be guilty of theft. Another way that you may accidentally take property is if you did not have the capacity to form the intent to steal. Those who are intoxicated or mentally impaired may have a defense against theft charges.
You Were Just Borrowing the Item
Another possible defense is the idea that you did not intend to deprive the victim because you were simply borrowing the object. This defense can be a little trickier to prove because it is all about your intentions. It usually works best in situations in which the defendant had reason to believe they could temporarily use the object and promptly brought it back as soon as possible. It may be harder to prove in cases in which the defendant took an object and had no reasonable way of returning the item to its rightful owner.
The Property Is Actually Yours
Legally speaking, you can only steal an item if you did not have the right to possess the item in the first place. It is rare for a person to be charged with theft when they own the property, but this can happen occasionally. The most typical scenario occurs when two people co-own a property or when a person bought an item in an informal sale. In these sorts of disputes, you don’t have to have enough proof of ownership to take the property from the other person. Instead, your defense will just need to show you had a reasonable belief you owned the property because this can prove your lack of intent to steal. An ownership defense can also work if you can show that the previous owner voluntarily abandoned the property. If this person gave up their rights to the property before you took possession of it, you may have a legal claim to the item, preventing you from being convicted of theft.
You Thought You Had Permission
Since you need intent to be convicted of theft, one defense is claiming that you thought you were allowed to take the item. For example, a friend could tell you it’s OK to take their belonging when the item actually belongs to someone else. Or you could get confused about which item a person was telling you that you could take. These sorts of misunderstandings usually get cleared up before official theft charges are filed. However, in cases in which one party is being stubborn, there is a chance a simple misunderstanding can lead to criminal charges. To use this defense, it’s helpful to have evidence, like text messages or a recorded conversation, that shows how you ended up thinking you had permission.
You Don’t Actually Have Possession of the Item
Most theft charges use the fact that you are in possession of the stolen item as proof that you stole the item. However, actually proving that the item you have is the one that’s missing can be somewhat tricky. Many types of property are fairly interchangeable. For example, if you walk out of the store with an apple in your pocket, is it possible to tell if the apple came from the store? Occasionally, people can use this uncertainty to defend against theft charges. This defense works best when the item in question is fairly commonplace, and there is evidence of you owning a similar item before the alleged theft. Your lawyer may be able to prove that you did not have the missing property, and there was no other evidence linking you to the crime.
Your Rights Were Violated During the Arrest or Investigation
In some cases, it’s possible to avoid a guilty verdict even if there is little doubt that you took the object intentionally. Just like any other criminal case, theft charges in New Jersey follow strict guidelines. If your lawyer suspects that your rights were violated, they can have any evidence obtained by the violation thrown out. One of the most common violations is a police officer searching you or your home without proper suspicion of a crime. Other reasons can include issues like a police officer not informing you of your right to remain silent or an officer not letting you know that you can consult with an attorney. If you believe that law enforcement lured you to steal the item, you may also be able to use entrapment as a defense.
Ultimately, the right defense can help you get a more positive outcome for your case. At the Law Office of Gregg Wisotsky, we work hard to make sure our clients get a quality defense. Our team can assist you with everything from gathering evidence to filing documents promptly. To learn more about our Morristown criminal defense lawyer services, schedule a free consultation. You can reach us by calling (973) 898-0161 or filling out our contact form.