Theft charges carry some serious potential penalties in Minnesota, so if you’ve found yourself in a bit of legal trouble, you’ll want to put together a solid defense plan. Oftentimes that begins with a call to a criminal defense lawyer who can begin formulating a strategy to beat the charges or secure a reduced charge as part of a plea deal. There’s no specific playbook for how a criminal defense lawyer may try to argue against theft charges, but there are a couple arguments that are more common than others. Today, we share three common defenses against theft accusations.
Defending Against Theft Charges
Here’s a look at three common defenses against theft charges, and why they are used.
1. Ownership Claim
One way in which a defendant may be able to beat theft charges is by arguing that they believed they owned the property. You may be wondering how it’s possible for a person to incorrectly think they have the right to something, so we’ll give you an example. Let’s say you meet someone on Craigslist selling a bike for $50. You agree to meet, and you buy the bike. The next day when you’re out riding your new bike, the cops stop you and say that a neighbor claims you are riding their stolen bike. The bike turns out to be your neighbor’s, but since you’ve been found in possession of it, the cops charge you with theft. By highlighting the Craigslist messages and explaining that you though you legally purchased the bicycle, you could get the charges dropped.
Another example is if you’re at a bar and you mistakenly grab someone else’s phone or coat. Odds are cooler heads will prevail and you’ll be able to explain the mix up, but we’ve seen cases like these end in theft charges. If you legitimately thought the object was yours, you can claim the ownership defense.
2. Entrapment or Coercion
This theft defense is a little more rare, but it comes up every so often. The entrapment defense suggests that you only stole something because a third party forced you to do so. However, it’s important to understand that there’s a big different between entrapment and peer pressure. We’ll use two examples using a group of teenage boys to help convey this distinction.
Example 1 – Bob tells his four friends that whoever steals the biggest candy bar from the gas station is the winner. All five kids enter the store, and the attendant catches Johnny stealing a Twix. Johnny likely wouldn’t be able to claim entrapment in this situation.
Example 2 – Jim routinely gets picked on by an older group of kids. One of the kids says that if Jim doesn’t steal him a Gatorade from the gas station, he’ll beat him up after school. Jim gets caught while trying to steal the Gatorade. Assuming the lawyer could prove that Jim is routinely bothered by these kids and that Jim feared for his safety if he did not steal the Gatorade, the charges would likely be dropped.
3. Not Enough Proof
The prosecution has to prove their case “beyond a reasonable doubt,” and many times that simply doesn’t exist. Just because money is missing from the register doesn’t mean that the cashier is guilty of theft. Unless cameras or witnesses can catch the person in the act, or they admit to the theft, there may not be enough evidence to convict a person of a crime. Arguing that the prosecution failed to meet the burden of proof is one of the more common theft defenses in Minnesota.
If you have questions or want to talk to a lawyer about your theft charge, reach out to Avery Appelman and his team today.