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Denver Criminal Attorney Explains Nuances of Basic Theft Law

The most common way to commit theft in the state of Colorado is by:

knowingly obtaining or exercising control over anything of value of another without authorization, or by threat or deception, and intending to deprive the other person permanently of the use or benefit of the thing of value.

All Elements Must be Present

The description above contains the elements of the crime of theft. All of these elements must be present in order for a person to be convicted of this type of theft (there are other ways to commit theft, however). If any of the above elements are missing, this particular type of theft has not been committed and the person’s actions may not be a crime (again, beware of other types of theft).

Scenarios Explaining Basic Theft in Colorado

Example 1:

John is taking a walk one day. He sees my bicycle on my front porch. He decides he would like to take my bicycle and keep it for his commute to work every day. John does not have my permission to take my bicycle. Nonetheless, as he is walking by John takes my bicycle and rides it home. He continues to ride it to and from work every day until he is caught by police.

In this example John has committed theft. His actions have met the above elements for the crime of theft.

Example 2:

John is taking a walk one day and sees my bicycle on my front porch. John knows he does not have my permission to take my bicycle, but John needs to get across town this afternoon and decides he can just return my bicycle to me when he gets back. John takes my bicycle, rides it across town and back, and leaves it in my front yard. Then John goes home.

In this example John has not committed theft. He did not intend to permanently deprive me of my bicycle and therefore, all of the elements of theft have not been met – no matter how mad I am. John may have committed trespass, or some other crime, but he has not committed the crime of theft.

Example 3:

John sees my bicycle and decides to ride it across town and back and then plans to leave it on my front lawn, just like in example 2. However, while across town the bicycle is stolen from John and I never get it back. In this example, just like in example 2, John has not committed theft.

Although John did not return my bicycle in this example, just like in example 2, John did not intend to permanently deprive me of the use or benefit of my bicycle. I may have a civil remedy against John, but he has not committed the crime of theft.

Example 4:

John sees me on my front porch with my bicycle as he is walking by one day. He asks me if he can ride my bike across town and then bring it back to me. Despite what he tells me, John intends to keep my bicycle and never return it. Not knowing this, I give John my bicycle and he rides away.

In this example John has committed theft. Although I gave him the bicycle, I only did so because he deceived me by telling me he would bring it back.

Conclusion

These are only a few examples of one type of theft. However, these examples show the importance of each element of a crime, and the law’s strict adherence to the language of statutes.

There is another important thing to remember.  In example 3, John did not intend to keep my bicycle, and because we know that, we know John did not commit theft.  The prosecution has the burden of proof in a criminal case.  Nonetheless, it is important to consider how example 3 looks to a jury.  If a jury believes John intended to keep my bicycle, even though he didn’t, and there is no evidence to the contrary, a jury may erroneously convict John of theft.

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