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Can I be guilty of theft if I thought I was allowed to have the property or never intended to steal it ?

Posted by Andrew Segal | May 09, 2018 | 0 Comments

 
To be guilty of the crime of theft in Alabama, a person must have the intent to have stolen the property.
 
So if I go to Walmart and I put a bag of dog food under my cart and then leave the store having paid for everything but the bag of dog food because I forgot it was there, have I committed a crime?
 
I have not because I did not mean to steal the property.
 
In Alabama, there are two primary elements to the crime of theft. One of them is the taking or carrying away of somebody else's property and the other is having the intent to steal the property.
 
In my example, I would not be guilty because I never had the intent to steal the property.
 
That doesn't mean that I might not be arrested. I see a fair number of cases where a person is accused of theft but they just did not have the intent to steal the property. 
 
One of the most common examples involves a woman who is shopping and has her purse in the cart. Something falls in the purse or perhaps a child place a toy he wants in the purse. Because the woman doesn't realize it's there, she leaves the store without paying for it and winds up getting charged with theft. Her defense is she did not have any criminal intent to take the property.
 
Does that mean they're just going to let her go, or that her case is going to be tossed? Probably not. Let's face it, sometimes people lie about what their intent is. If the woman went to trial either a judge or a jury would need to decide, from the evidence,  whether they believed she had the intent to take the property.
 
Her defense lawyer's job is to challenge the state's version of the events by cross-examining the states' witnesses and presenting arguments in her favor. Her lawyer might have her testify, although legally, she's not required to do so.
 
If you find yourself in legal trouble and you want our help, just give us a call.

About the Author

Andrew Segal

Andrew Segal is a former prosecutor who now represents the accused as a criminal defense attorney in Huntsville, Alabama area courts. Andrew graduated cum laude from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, in 1982. During his time at Washington College of Law at American University, he discovered hi...

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