Theft is a serious charge that can bring severe consequences. Whether your specific charge is a misdemeanor or a felony will depend upon several factors, including: the monetary value of the property allegedly stolen, whether or not the alleged crime involved a weapon, exactly how the alleged theft occurred, and whether or not you have a criminal history.
Felony theft convictions can carry weighty fines and jail sentences in Colorado, and even a misdemeanor conviction can have far-reaching consequences. Whatever the circumstances, a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney will be able to investigate the circumstances of your case and advise you of your legal options and the best course of action.
In the meantime, here are several of the most common defense strategies when facing a Colorado theft charge.
It Wasn’t Me That Stole It
Sometimes accusers make mistakes.
Prosecutors must prove that you were actually at the location where the theft occurred during the time period they believe the property was stolen. If you can provide evidence that you were not at the proposed location at that time – or ever – then your legal team has a strong alibi defense.
Examples of admissible evidence can include, but are not limited to: written planners, digital calendars, text messages, bank statements, time-stamped purchase receipts, parking garage or event tickets, and witness testimony.
Another way to use this defense is to argue that the item in question was not actually in your possession, or that you did not know the property was stolen.
I Didn’t Steal, I Borrowed or Was Just Holding It
Part of proving a theft crime is showing intent to deprive the true owner permanently of their property. This defense is useful in both shoplifting and individual theft cases.
It is not uncommon for people to become sidetracked for a multitude of reasons while shopping and mistakenly walk out of a store. Or they might go into a prohibited area like a restroom with clothing or merchandise they haven’t paid for yet. Or they could simply forget to clear the bottom of a shopping cart.
Another way to present this defense is by establishing your intent to return the property at the time it was taken, but for whatever reason you were not able to do so.
Although simply returning property is not a defense in and of itself, in these kinds of situations taking action to show you made an honest mistake can paint a more sympathetic picture for plea deals or reducing penalties in a case.
It’s Rightfully Mine
If you are able to establish that you honestly believe you have a right to own or possess the property in question, or if you can provide documented evidence of a valid claim to it, then charges should be dropped.
Also, in cases of authorized possession, evidence can include any documentation showing that the person charged with theft was given authorization by the owner of the property to use or possess it. Or simply arguing convincingly that you reasonably believed the owner had authorized you with the use of the property.
Note, however, this defense will fail if the length of time the defendant possesses the article(s) in question has gone on for a longer period than allowed, or has been taken over state lines from Colorado.
I Stole It, But Not of My Own Volition
If you were in a situation where you were induced to commit theft by someone, and you are able to establish that you would not have otherwise committed the crime, then depending on the circumstances you may qualify for one the following two defenses:
Entrapment – This is when undue persuasion or fraud by another individual led you to commit the crime. If someone used you as a victim to commit theft with the specific goal of getting you arrested and prosecuted (in other words, they set you up), your attorney may be able to effectively argue an entrapment case.
Duress – If someone threatened to harm you or your family if you refused to commit the theft, then you were under duress at the time the crime was committed, and can use this as your defense.
Whether you’re facing charges of credit card fraud or retail theft from a grocery store, you have the right to defend yourself – and when you’re facing six months jail time for even the smallest of petty offenses, you’re going to want to.
Colorado is tough on theft crime, but a conviction isn’t guaranteed. Your best bet to beat your charges is to mount the strongest defense possible.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.