Not all accusations are appropriate. Often, someone just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Regardless, theft charges happen, but there are defense strategies which can be used if they fit your situation.

“To convict an individual of a theft,” says Nicholas Wooldridge, a Las Vegas criminal defense lawyer, “the prosecution has to prove the individual committed the crime, and that person had mental intent.”

With several possible legal defenses which can apply in theft cases, it always comes down to the facts to determine which way the trial may go. An alleged theft may have risen from an honest misunderstanding of ownership or done under duress. Assuming that a theft did actually happen, several typical defenses can be used.

Claim of Right

A person accused of stealing property can have a valid defense if they can establish they had a good faith belief the property was theirs to begin with. While a straightforward defense, it is not as simple as just claiming, “I thought it was mine.” Often, the defendant needs to provide evidence, such as receipts, which supports their claim.


If a person can establish they were intoxicated at the time of the alleged theft, their attorney may successfully defend theft charges. Regardless of the reason — alcohol, chemicals, drugs — if an individual is unable to form the required intent to steal they may have an intoxication defense.

For example, if a person is too drunk to notice the expensive leather coat wasn’t theirs, they may be able to use this defense. But the same rule about providing evidence of ownership applies.

Return of Property

Persons often believe that just returning the allegedly stolen item wipes the slate clean and precludes any charge of theft. Returning stolen property usually doesn’t provide a defense though. While doing so can pain a sympathetic picture and lay a foundation for a plea deal with the prosecutor, returning the item may help reduce the penalties if convicted. Accused thieves often claim the property in question was “borrowed” — not stolen.


Entrapment comes into play any time an individual commits a crime but was encouraged, or induced, by someone in order to prosecute the target. In a theft charge, the entrapment defense applies if the idea to steal came from the entrapping person with the goal of apprehending and prosecuting the targeted person.

Confused? A claim of entrapment is often reduced to, “But the cops set me up.”

Get a Lawyer

Suppose you’re out shopping and go to the bathroom. You accidentally take merchandise with you. Store security catches you, calls the cops and the next thing you know, you are being charged with theft. While the defenses shown here range from an innocent mistake to entrapment, none are valuable if you don’t plead them in the right way at the right time.

If you’ve been charged with theft or another criminal offense, get a lawyer.

The Takeaway

There are always specifics in a particular case regarding theft defense. Some work better than others though