Neighbors arguing

Can You Be Charged With Stealing a Borrowed Item?

You asked to borrow one of your neighbor’s rare books. They obliged, but they were gone when you went to return it. Your neighbors went on vacation. By the time they returned, you both forgot about it. A few months, later you get an unexpected visit from the police accusing you of theft. Could this really happen? Can you be charged with stealing a borrowed item?

Mens Rea

In law, the specific intent to commit a criminal act is called Mens Rea. To prove a case of theft, the prosecution must demonstrate that the accused had the specific intent to take an item and never return it.

Keep in mind that in any criminal case, the prosecution has the burden of proof, meaning they need to demonstrate intent beyond a reasonable doubt. Put another way; the defendant does not have to demonstrate a lack of intent.

A Viable Defense

In the case of our example, saying that you planned to return the book eventually could be a viable defense. Similarly, arguing you forgot about the borrowed item may be adequate as well. If there’s no specific intent to take the item and never return it, then the prosecution cannot prove theft.

Similarly, even if you borrowed an item without asking (such as your neighbor’s lawnmower), it probably wouldn’t be considered theft unless you had intent to keep the lawnmower. However, that kind of thinking could get you into trouble if you’re not on good terms with the item’s owner. For that reason, it’s always best to consult an attorney when it comes to the legality of borrowing.

If you were accused of theft over a borrowed item, you may need legal representation. If you’d like an experienced Seminole County criminal defense attorney from The Law Office of David A. Webster, P.A. to evaluate your case, please send us an email or call (407) 326-0650.

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