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When Does Borrowing Become Stealing in the Eyes of the Law?


It is easy to make a simple mistake, like forgetting to return an item that you have borrowed. As time passes by, we might forget about what we borrowed, until the person to whom it belongs to comes looking for it. Even if the owner of the item you forgot to return is angry at you for your oversight, your actions do not equate theft if you honestly forgot to give them back their property. Below, we explain when borrowing becomes stealing in the eyes of the law.

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The Intent to Permanently Deprive

The boundary between borrowing and theft comes down to intent. However there are different degrees of criminal intent, such as:

  • Specific Intent: The criminal act was committed with a specific intent or purpose
  • General Intent: The criminal act was not accidental
  • Strict Liability Crimes: The criminal act was carried out regardless of intent

Generally, the element of intent is where the legal disputes arise in theft cases. Legally speaking, in order to be found guilty of theft, you must have had the specific intention to never return what you borrowed to the owner when you initially borrowed the item in question. If you simply forgot to return the item you borrowed, you do not meet the criteria for specific intent.

The Burden of Proof

If you are being accused of theft for an item that you borrowed, the prosecution will need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you never actually intended to return the item to its rightful owner. To prove your intentions, the prosecution will need evidence that establishes your desire to keep the item you borrowed. Text or email messages that demonstrate your intention to keep the borrowed item can be used to charge you with theft.

However, establishing proof for whether or not a borrowed item is in fact stolen can be a difficult feat. For example, if you ignore the owner’s request to return the item, is it stealing? Or what if you saw your neighbor’s bike left outside and you brought it inside to make sure no one steals it. You forget to return it and the neighbor ends up reporting it stolen, did you steal your neighbor’s bike? A good alibi for any of these scenarios can negate accusations of theft.

Have you been accused of stealing property that you forgot to give back to the owner? Are you worried that the owner might try to charge you with theft? We can help. At L. Patrick Mulligan & Associates, LLC, we are dedicated to protecting the rights of all our clients. We can review your case and determine a legal strategy that will get you the justice you deserve. Let us fight for you today.

Contact our Dayton theft crimes lawyers to talk about your case and what we can do for you. We are here 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.