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Is honestly believing that you have a right to property a defense to a charge of theft in Alabama?  

Posted by Andrew Segal | Mar 25, 2019 | 0 Comments

I like to teach by way of stories, so here it is:

 Our friend, Muddy Waters, has pulled up in his pickup truck by Lake Guntersville to enjoy the sights.

While he is there, he meets two attractive women, Patty Larceny and her friend Missy or “Miss” Demeanor. The women are standing next to a very nice bass boat named “The Bass- Ackwards”.

Petty Larceny and Miss Demeanor tell Muddy they need a big strong man with a truck to tow the boat to the Piggly Wiggly where they plan to sell it to an Asian fellow named “Some Ting Wong”,

They tell Muddy that Mr. Wong saw the boat on Craigslist and he wants to buy it.

Petty Larceny and Miss Demeanor tell our friend Muddy that after he delivers the boat, they will pay $30 out of the money that Mr. Wong pays as his delivery fee.

Muddy delivers the boat.

Unfortunately, when Muddy gets to the Piggly Wiggly he's met by officer Buster Chops who was with a Mr. Allwet.

Mr. Allwet discovered his boat was stolen just a few minutes ago.

Muddy tries to explain to officer Buster about Patty Larceny and Miss Demeanor. Unfortunately for him, they are nowhere to be found.

 Muddy tells the officer he honestly believed he was just delivering the boat for them. Officer Buster will have none of it; he busts Muddy for stealing the boat.

Muddy goes to trial before Judge Hamm Berger. At trial Muddy once again says he honestly believed he was simply delivering the boat.

So, what's the verdict?

Muddy is found not guilty.

Why?

Because Alabama law recognizes the “honest belief” defense. We even have a statute about this in our criminal code, Section 13 A – 8– 12 which says that if somebody honest believes they had some right over the property that can assert that as a defense.

Let's hope that neither you or anyone you love Finds yourself in any kind of muddy legal waters. But if you do, just give us a call. Our contact information is right here:

By the way, if you want to read the actual statute, here it is:

Alabama Code Title 13A. Criminal Code § 13A-8-12

a) It is a defense to a prosecution under Sections 13A-8-2 through 13A-8-11 (theft of property, theft of lost property, theft of services and unauthorized use of vehicle) that the actor honestly believed that he had a claim to the property or services involved which he was entitled to assert in the manner which forms the basis for the charge against him.

(b) The burden of injecting the issue of claim of right is on the defendant, but this does not shift the burden of proof.

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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