What to Do If You’re Accused of Theft: Defense Strategies and Tips

A theft accusation in Utah is serious and can have severe consequences. The penalties can be harsh, including fines, jail time, and a permanent criminal record. Additionally, a conviction for theft can have a long-lasting impact on a person's personal and professional life, affecting employment opportunities and potentially leading to social stigmatization.

It is essential to take theft accusations seriously and understand the potential consequences of a conviction. Even a misdemeanor theft charge can have significant effects, including up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. For more severe offenses, the penalties can include substantial prison time and fines of up to $10,000.

Therefore, seeking legal advice as soon as possible is crucial if you have been accused of theft in Utah. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you understand the charges against you, build a strong defense, and work to mitigate the potential consequences of a conviction. By taking swift and decisive action, you can increase your chances of pursuing a successful outcome and minimize the impact of these charges on your life.

Schedule a consultation with Lokken & Putnam, P.C. by calling (801) 829-9783 or submitting an online contact form. We serve Salt Lake City.

What Constitutes Theft in Utah?

Under Utah Code § 76-6-404, theft is the act of appropriating property or services of another person with the intent to deprive the rightful owner of their property permanently or temporarily. The property may include tangible objects, such as money, merchandise, or personal belongings, as well as intangible items, such as intellectual property rights or computer software.

One example of theft is when an individual takes cash from someone's wallet without permission. Another example is when an employee takes company property, such as office equipment or intellectual property, for personal use or gain. In both cases, the intent is to deprive the rightful owner of their property.

It is important to note that the specific circumstances of each theft case will be different, and it is essential to consult with a criminal defense attorney to understand the charges and build a strong defense.

What to Do If Accused of Theft?

If you are accused of theft, taking immediate action to protect your rights and build a strong defense is essential. The first thing to do is remain calm and cooperate with law enforcement. Still, it is crucial to understand your rights and what you should and should not say to the police.

You have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. It is essential to exercise these rights and not say anything that could incriminate yourself or be used against you in court. Politely refuse to answer any questions without an attorney present and refrain from making any statements that could be construed as admissions of guilt.

It is also vital to seek legal advice from an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. A lawyer can help you understand the charges against you, advise you on your legal options, and build a strong defense.

Possible Defense Strategies for Theft Charges

If you're facing theft charges, it's essential to understand possible defense strategies.

Here are a few angles to consider:

  • Lack of intent: If you didn't intend to steal the item(s) in question, you may be able to argue that you lacked the necessary intent to be convicted of theft. For example, if you took an umbrella from a restaurant because you thought it belonged to you, you could argue that you didn't intend to commit theft.
  • Mistaken identity: People are sometimes accused of theft simply because they resemble the culprit. If you can prove that you were mistaken for someone else, it may be possible to get the charges dropped. For example, if a store's surveillance footage shows someone who looks like you stealing a purse, but you can demonstrate that you were in a different part of town at the time, you could argue that you're not the actual thief.
  • Consent: In some cases, you may have taken the item(s) in question with the owner's permission. This could happen if a store owner invites you to take a free sample but then accuses you of stealing when you leave with it. In this case, you'd argue that you acted with the owner's consent when you took the item and didn't commit theft.
  • Ownership: Finally, you may be able to argue that you actually own the item(s) in question. For instance, you borrowed your friend's laptop, and they later accused you of stealing it. In this scenario, you could argue that you have a rightful claim to the laptop and did not intend to steal it. You may have borrowed the laptop with your friend's consent or even purchased it from them.

Each of these defense strategies may require distinct types of evidence. For example, proving mistaken identity may involve providing an alibi or a witness who can attest to your whereabouts when the theft occurred. Meanwhile, proving ownership may require documentation such as a loan agreement or a bill of sale. A skilled criminal defense attorney can help you assess available strategies and guide you through gathering the necessary evidence.

Tips for Preparing a Strong Defense

Preparing a strong defense is critical if facing theft charges. You can increase your chances of seeking a favorable outcome with the right strategy and approach.

Here are a few tips on preparing a strong defense:

  • Gather evidence: Collect evidence supporting your defense, such as receipts, witness statements, and surveillance footage. This evidence can help demonstrate that you did not intend to commit theft or had legal justification for your actions.
  • Create a timeline: Create a timeline of events leading up to the alleged theft. This timeline can help identify inconsistencies in the prosecution's case and clearly explain what happened.
  • Understand the law: Familiarize yourself with Utah's theft laws and the elements of the specific charge you are facing. Understanding the law can help you identify weaknesses in the prosecution's case and build a more robust defense.
  • Hire an experienced criminal defense attorney: Working with a lawyer with experience defending clients in theft cases is essential.
  • Be honest with your lawyer: It is crucial to be honest and transparent with your attorney about the details of your case. This information can help your lawyer develop a tailored defense strategy that addresses the specific circumstances of your case.

Reach Out to Our Firm

Being accused of theft can be a challenging and stressful experience. Still, remember that options may be available to fight the charge. First, it's important to understand what constitutes theft and to know your rights when accused. Also, several defense strategies can be employed, such as challenging the evidence or demonstrating a lack of intent. It's crucial to prepare a strong case with the help of an attorney.

Speak with one of our Salt Lake City lawyers by contacting Lokken & Putnam, P.C. at (801) 829-9783.